What is Gefilte Fish?

Gefilte fish is a basically a seasoned fish cake or fish teraine of mostly white-fleshed freshwater fish. The word, "gefilte," comes from German and means, "stuffed." This may have derived from an earlier variation of gefilte fish in which the chopped flesh of the fish was stuffed in its own skin and eaten.

Although gefilte fish can be eaten at any time of the year, it is usually eaten in the Spring time especially around Passover. Gefilte fish and matzo ball soup are traditionally eaten as part of the main Passover meal in Ashkenazi Jewish tradition after the story of the Exodus and various symbolic items are eaten from the seder plate. Gefilte fish is very good with horseradish.

Gefilte fish is pronounced, "geh-fill-ta," (with a hard G sound) and not "jeff-fa-lite." If I had a dollar for everytime I heard someone in Minnesota say, "jeff-fa-lite," I could buy myself at least ten jars of, "geh-fill-ta."

How to Make Your Own Gefilte Fish

The pastime of making gefilte fish has greatly been lost in American with the quantity of ready-made gelatinous gefilte fish to be purchased in jars. If you are interested in making your own sometime, here is what you need and how to do it:

GELFILITE LIKE YOUR JEWISH MOTHER WOULD LIKE TO FEED YOU

You will need:

  • 10 pounds ground fish (50% Whitefish, 30% Pike, 20% Trout)-- if you wish, retain the heads (eyes removed) and bones for flavor.
  • 8 pounds onions, whole
  • 4 onions, chopped
  • 12 eggs
  • 2 pounds carrots
  • Paprika
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 8 ounces seltzer water

Purchase 20 pounds of the above fish at a fishery or at the fish counter of the local grocery. Grind the fish (or have it ground for you) and make sure the skin is not included. This should produce the 10 pounds of ground fish needed for this recipe. Ask the store associate to package separately 4 heads (eyes removed) and all the bones, as these will be placed in the bottom of the pot for flavoring and to create a fish gravy called Yuch (pronounced "yoo-kh").

Arrange 2 heads and half of the bones in each soup kettle. Peel the 8 pounds of onions and scrape and cut the carrots into 2-inch pieces, and divide equally between the pots. Add cold water until the pots are ½ to ¾ full then sprinkle in salt, pepper and a generous amount of paprika. Cover and bring to a boil, and then reduce the fire.

Place chopped fish in a wooden bowl and using a hand chopper, chop in one egg at a time and the 4 chopped onions, alternating with seltzer water. Add salt, pepper and paprika to taste.

Make fish balls and drop into the water in the soup pots. Dipping hands into a bowl of cold water in between forming balls will keep fish from sticking to your hands. Sprinkle more paprika on top of the fish and leaving the pot uncovered, bring the water back to a boil. Reduce fire and simmer 35 minutes covered and 35 minutes uncovered. Shake the pots a bit as they cook so the balls don’t stick together.

Cool the fish and remove carefully with a spoon, so as not to break the balls. Pour the liquid gravy (Yuch) through a strainer, remove the carrots and save them. Mash the bones and onions and press through the strainer into the Yuch.

Yuch may be stored in separate containers and fish in aluminum foil pans, covered. To prepare for serving, pour some of the Yuch over the fish, cover and bake at 325 for one hour. Cool and serve cold, garnishing with the carrot pieces. Gefilte fish may be eaten plain or accompanied by grated horseradish, matzo farfel (pieces) and Yuch.

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