Stewed Carp with Forcemeat Balls

An early recipe which occurs in various manuscripts from the days when all great houses and monasteries had their own fishponds. Carp were highly considered. In large ponds or lakes they grow to a good size over several years and have a delicate flavour and consistency. This is an adaptation of a recipe from Richard Dolby, who was head cook at the fashionable Thatched House Tavern in St James’s Street in about 1820. It can also be made with pike or with two large trout. London fishmongers will usually get a carp if the order is placed a day or two before it is required. The brown sauce is delicate enough for the fish and does not disguise its flavour, which contrasts well with the forcemeat balls.


  • 2 to 3 lb (1 to 1½ kg) carp
  • cups (6 dl) chicken stock (a stock cube will do)
  • cups (3 dl) medium dry sherry
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 12 peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • cup (1.5 dl) good brown sauce, rather thick
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Forcemeat Balls

  • 1 cup (120 g) minced raw veal or chicken
  • 1 medium onion, very finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried tarragon
  • 2 teaspoons chopped parsley (fresh or dried)
  • 4 tablespoons (60 g) fresh fine white breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fat for frying


Trim the fins from the cleaned carp and make 3 cuts across the back. (This is known as crimping; it allows the fish to cook more quickly and prevents the skin splitting.)

Lay the fish in a flat stew pan and pour over the stock and sherry. Add the bay leaves, peppercorns and salt, bring to the boil and simmer very gently, covered, for 30 minutes. (If two smaller fish are used, they will only require about 15 minutes cooking.)

Meanwhile make the forcemeat balls by mixing all the dry ingredients in a bowl and stirring in the egg to bind. When well worked together, divide the mixture into 12 small pieces, roll into balls and fry in fat for about 5 minutes until golden brown on all sides. Lift, drain well and keep hot.

When the fish is cooked, lift on to a flat serving dish and keep hot. Boil the stock and wine (in which it has been cooking) fiercely for 5 minutes, then reduce the heat and stir in the brown sauce, a little at a time, beating well. Add the lemon juice and cayenne. Check the seasoning. Pour the sauce over the carp and lay the forcemeat balls around the edge of the dish.