How to make Gefilte Fish that is! I just had to throw in another Beatles title. If there ever was a dish that was quintessentially Jewish, Gefilte Fish is probably that dish, or at least in a very small list. To understand why we this is true, you need to know a little about the dishes history. Back in Eastern Europe, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Jews were kept poor by the governments and mostly living in little villages we call shtetlah, or simply the shtetal. Despite this, they would try to purchase the best that they could for Shabbat and holidays. That often meant fish as it was less costly than beef for chicken. In poor societies it became common to use as much of the animal as possible when cooking it. Thus Gefilte Fish was born. The women would bone the fish, grind up the fish with eggs, matza, sugar and spices, and shape into balls or patties. Then the ground fish would be stuffed into the fish skin with the head still attached so it looked like a whole fish. This would be cooked in a broth made from the fish bones and onions, carrots and other vegetables. The fish would be cooled slightly and sliced into pieces. This way the entire fish was used. It was called Gefilte, because this is the Yiddish term for stuffed. Depending upon where you came from in Europe, you may have not used the sugar and made a more savory version. The sweet fish was usually found in southeastern Europe and the savory in northeastern.
Today, you don’t often find the fish stuffed into the skin and head, but the basic recipe has remained the same. The main fishes used were usually whitefish, carp and pike as they were the cheapest fish and not often used for other things. As the eastern European Jews moved to America, they brought this recipe with them, and I know many people who remember their grandmother having a carp or two in the bathtub on Friday morning waiting to be made into Gefilte Fish.
I tried to make Gefilte Fish once, but I failed because I tried using a modern recipe that really strayed from the classic recipe. Since then we have always bought the frozen logs that you can get in the grocery store, which you boil in water with vegetables, sugar, salt and pepper. This year I decided to try again, and I am working with a very classic recipe. I got this recipe from our friend Beth Newman who has been working as a personal chef for the past year or so. She tells me that she gets rave reviews from this recipe and I trust her totally. She in turn got the recipe from a website called recipezaar and it was posted there by a woman named Sarah Chana and is called “My Mom’s Legendary Galicianer (Sweet) Gefilte Fish. Galicianer is a term used to describe Jews from Galicia which is the western Ukraine and southeastern Poland where the food tended to be prepared on the sweet side.
The recipe says that is makes 16 servings and calls for two pounds of whitefish fillets. The fist counter will only sell whole fishes to grind, so I asked how much whole fish I need. I was told that for two pounds I need at least four pounds of whole fish, and I believe I ordered between eight and nine pounds and whatever I get I will work with. The recipe also calls for all whitefish, but I ordered a mix of whitefish and carp, since carp is a very traditional fish to use and it is much cheaper.
2 lbs whitefish fillets, ground
3 large onions
6 extra large eggs
2 ½ t salt
3/4 – 1 C sugar
2 – 2 ½ C Matza Meal
2 small onions, sliced
2 carrots, sliced
1. Mix together the fish, onions, eggs, salt, sugar and pepper until well blended.
2. Add Matza Meal slowly, mixing well until it is almost thick enough to hold its shape.
3. Cover bowl and refrigerate for at least one hour, up to overnight.
4. Shape into balls, patties or loaves, which can all be frozen at this point.
5. In a large pot add the broth ingredients, bring to boil and simmer for at least thirty minutes. Broth should be almost golden in color. Taste to adjust seasonings. Broth should be sweet and a little bit salty.
6. Add the loaves, balls or patties to the broth.
7. Bring back to boil and lower to a simmer for about 1 hour 15 minutes. If you put frozen loaves in the water, cook for 90 minutes.
That is what I am going to do, increasing the ingredients based on how much ground fish I have. I will be preparing the fish tomorrow night and then I will form loaves and wrape them with parchment paper. On Sunday I will remove the parchment from the frozen loaves and cook in the broth. The fish will stay find covered until Monday night.
Finally, here are two great Passover youtube videos.
My kids never tire of this next one!