Gefilte fish was never one of my must-have foods. Maybe it’s because the only kind I had growing up was the jarred kind and, like most foods, jarred, canned or otherwise, packaged stuff is not generally the best example of kind. My mother never made fresh gefilte fish and neither did my grandma. Maybe it had something to do with where my ancestors were from.
My mother always did say that my other grandmother — my father’s mother — was a terrible cook, except for her gefilte fish and challah, neither of which I remember ever tasting because I don’t remember ever eating in that grandmother’s house.
But I actually made gefilte fish once, many years ago, when I was doing some catering and a client wanted a batch. That’s when I realized that gefilte fish, properly made and called by another name — say, fish quenelles — could be tender, delicate and fabulously tasty, which they were. I also decorated them with tiny carrot-and-leek tulips. They took forever to make, hours of work and I swore I would never make them again. Which I didn’t. Which is fine in our house because my daughter Gillian is allergic to fish and we never have gefilte fish at our Seders or any other family dinner.
But my friend Linda decided to make some this year using her Grandma Kate’s recipe. She got the fish from New Wave, a shop in Stamford, CT., and told me it got to the store just hours before she picked it up and “was so fresh that it could have jumped into the pot itself….wasn’t the least bit fishy smelling..as a matter of fact, there was no odor at all.”
She told me that “word from the assemblage was that the gefilte fish was the right texture. My sister Gail thought there should be less onion and Susan thought more salt and pepper.”
She used her Cusinart to grind the fish a bit (3 pulses) but never let it puree, which would have made the texture mushy. She finished it to the right texture the old fashioned way, using a bowl and chopper.
She said the fish was light, sweet and tender and concluded “it was delicious……I don’t know if I can go back to the stuff in the jar!”
As for the time consuming process, she said that although “it was a great adventure,” next year she will have the fish filleted so she doesn’t have to do that herself.
Wish I could taste a piece right now. It looks looks so delicious. Here’s her recipe:
Linda Gratt’s Gefilte Fish (from her Grandmother Kate) (adapted instructions)
2-1/2 pounds white fish
1-1/2 pounds yellow pike
3 big onions, chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
salt and pepper
2 large eggs
1 cooking spoonful matzo meal (about 3 tablespoons)
3/4 cup cold water
1 carrot, cleaned and sliced
1 additional onion, sliced
Filet the fish, but save the bones and skin. Slice the fish, then chop it using a meat grinder or bowl and chopper (or pulse a few times in a food processor, then finish it to a small grind using a chef’s knife and cutting board. Place the fish in a mixing bowl. Add the chopped onions, sugar, salt and pepper and eggs and mix thoroughly, continuing to chop the ingredients while working them in to the mixture. Add the matzo meal and water and mix in thoroughly. Line the bottom of a large pot with the fish bones, the sliced carrot and onion. Form the fish mixture into ovals the size of a “healthy hamburger.” Take a piece of the fish skin and wind it around each oval (wet your hands with cold water to make this part less messy). Place the fish inside the pot. Continue, using all the fish mixture. Fill the pot with water, pouring the liquid down the side so as not to injure the ovals. Bring to a simmer, cover the pan partially and cook for 2-1/2 hours. Let cool. Remove the ovals, without the skin, to a platter. Garnish with the carrot pieces. Refrigerate until cold. Strain the broth (it will gel when cold). Serve the fish with some of the gel and some horseradish if desired.