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Koktal the meal of nomads.

Preparation koktal in Kazakhstan.

Smoked fish is a favorite around the world, but Kazakhstan has its own unique version of this popular dish. Called koktal, the secret is in its name. Translated from Kazakh, koktal means "green willow."
Willow branches used in the smoking process give a unique, subtle aroma to the delicacy. However, according to chef Akhmet Orazbayev nothing improves the taste of this dish better than the wood from apple trees.
Most importantly, he adds, avoid using coniferous branches, as they make koktal bitter. The recipe of this Central Asian dish can be traced back to the days of antiquity, when warrior nomads baked the fish with scales still intact, in its own juices, on burning hot stones.
Today koktal is cooked in a special iron smoker, called a koktal box. In Kazakhstan koktal is cooked in any resort area situated close to lakes and rivers. Traditional fish for koktal is sazan, but other freshwater fish are also used, such as grass carp, silver carp, or any large carp weighing no less than four to five kilograms, with bones large enough to make the fish convenient and safe for eating with one's hands.
In Kazakhstani restaurants koktal is often served for banquets as the best dish. Some establishments offer it each Thursday, which is traditionally considered fish day.
Recipe for koktal.
First of all, remember to never remove the scales of the fish or it will burn. Also, do not touch the head, tail, or fin. Fish preparation has some special features: cut the fish along the spine and take the spine out.
Then cut out the gills. Caviar may be reserved for use later during the cooking. Wash the cut fish well, removing the entrails by making cuts along the ribs. Rub the fish with salt and spices.
Add some pepper and lemon juice. Cut the vegetables in circles - onions, peppers, tomatoes - and layer them on the fish in that order. Some people call koktal a kind of fish pizza, as any vegetables may be layered on it, depending on one's preferences.
Afterwards put the mayonnaise in a plastic bag and make a small hole in the bottom. Squeeze the mayonnaise out of the plastic bag over the vegetables in crisscrossed lines like a net covering the vegetables and leave for 30 - 40 minutes for pickling.
A very large fish may be left in the refrigerator overnight. If the caviar is available, you may salt it and put it into the gill gaps. While the fish is marinating, light the smoker. Put several apple, willow, or pear tree twigs at the bottom of the koktal box.
Arrange the fish on the grate inside the smoker and secure the cover. The dish will be ready in 40-60 minutes. Decorate it with parsley, olives, lettuce leaves, and lemon slices. Serve the koktal from the grate.
If you don't have a smoker, the fish may be cooked in the oven. However, your dish will lack the special aroma that genuine koktal is famous for. We thank Almaty restautant "Altyn Biday" (59a, Masanchi Street, tel. 292 77 54 for help in the preparation of this article.
Ingredients for koktal.
4-5 kg fish (sazan, grass carp, silver carp, or carp), 2-3 onions, 2-3 sweet peppers, 1 kg tomatoes, 2-3 lemons, parsley, fish seasoning mixture, salt, pepper, mayonnaise, olives.

Preparation koktal.Preparation koktal in marching conditions.Koktal.Koktal place in a metal box for preparation.Koktal place in a metal box for preparation.Koktal place in a metal box for preparation.Preparation koktal.

Authorship:
Yelena Gurina. Magazine “Tengri” 5,2009.

Photos
Alexander Petrov.