Gefilte fish (from the Yiddish: געפֿילטע פֿיש, “stuffed fish”, derived from the German gefüllte Fische) is an Ashkenazi Jewish dish made from a poached mixture of ground deboned fish, such as carp, whitefish, or pike, which is typically eaten as an appetizer with grated horseradish.
Fish is considered “parve”, meaning it is neither milk nor meat and thus according to kosher law, it may be eaten at both meat and dairy meals (meat and dairy are never mixed in the same meal in a kosher home).
Although the dish historically consisted of a minced-fish forcemeat stuffed inside the fish skin (as its name implies), since the 19th century the skin has been omitted and the seasoned fish is formed into patties similar to quenelles or fish balls.
The simple truth is that Gefilte fish is actually very close to the classic French fish quenelles served in the finest French restaurants! It’s use of Pike in particular is identical to the classic French quenelles. The addition of the cheaper carp and whitefish enabled poor Jews to stretch the expensive fish and feed an entire family.
Gefilte fish are very popular in Jewish homes on Shabbat and holidays such as Passover, although they may be consumed throughout the year.
Unfortunately, most commercial Gefilte fish is made from at best one or two fish (leaving out the Pike), is fairly tasteless and comes packed in a mucilaginous slime (jellied fish aspic) reminiscent of that found dripping from any number of ancient eldritch horrors from beyond the stars.
If it sounds unappetizing – it is.
Many young Jews are psychically scarred from being forced to eat bad Gefilte fish over the holidays, myself included (I’m only partially joking here!).
This fear of Gefilte is a sad travesty, for homemade Gefilte fish is both eminently delicious and savory. Very few make it at home anymore, but for you my Citizens, I will show you the sacred path to true Gefilte fulfillment!
Immodestly, I believe my recipe to be the best recipe to be found for Polish-style Gefilte (meaning there is a touch of sugar in it – Lithuanian-style has no sugar but does use pepper), with a nod to the Ukraine via the ground-in vegetables.
My recipe includes a French-inspired fish stock that adds a more complex and subtle flavor than you usually find in Gefilte fish. It is also mercifully slime-free.
Except for these variations, this recipe is resolutely traditional and made the only proper way: from the triumverate of fresh pike, whitefish and carp, in what I believe are the best proportions.
Any use of different fish is blasphemous and will bring down the accumulated anger of an ancient Ashkenazic ancestry upon you (Sephardic Jews are exempt from the ancestral wrath, but can now become honorary Ashkenazim by following this recipe exactly). 😉
Battle on – The Generalissimo
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