How to Make Gefilte Fish

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 Cyrus McCrimmon / Getty Images

Long associated with Jewish holiday dinners, like Rosh Hashanah and Passover, gefilte fish has gotten a bad rap. The Eastern European delicacy of ground fish went from delightful light dish to grey mush ball in a jar. 

Yiddish for stuffed fish, this economical peasant food started off as a stuffed fish skin with some fish and much filler. It evolved into a fresh fish dumpling or baked terrines where grandmothers were known to store a live carp in the bathtub as a first step in the holiday preparation. Eventually the art of making these simple ground fish dumplings was swapped for mass produced too sweet jarred kind.


Jeffrey Yoskowitz first identified this fishy crisis when his grandmother stopped making the homemade kind, and his family turned to its beloved Jewish grocery store in the burbs. When that closed in 2011, Yoskowitz was forced into the kitchen or become "the family that bought the jarred kind" (culinary death). As a result, The Gefilteria was born a year later. He and his partners have helped thousands of Jews develop a new fondness for this old world staple with the creation of a baked terrine of whitefish and pike.

Today, you don't need an old Jewish grandma or even the traditional holiday dinner to get a fresh taste of the old world. Just find a fishmonger who will set you up with a fresh filet or even better, ground it for you. Traditionally an appetizer, this simple recipe also works well on a toast point topped with horseradish and served with pickled vegetables and deviled eggs, suggests Yoskowitz, who's co-authoring The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods, out next fall. It also goes down nicely with Reisling, if you can skip the Manischewitz. 

Traditional Gefilte Fish  

Ingredients 

Broth

  • 4 quarts water
  • Heads, bones and tails from fish (A fishmonger can save these for you if he/she sells you fish as a fillet. Just ask.)
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 3 onions, peeled and roughly chopped (reserve skins)
  • 4 medium carrots
  • 3 tablespoons sugar

Fish:

  • 1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 12 ounces whitefish
  • 4 ounces pike
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons oil (vegetable or olive oil)

Directions 

For broth*

  1. Place fish bones, vegetables, salt and sugar in a large stock pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat to simmer and cover until gefilte is ready to be cooked.
  2. Skim off any foam that comes to the surface. (The broth can also be made without the fish parts.)

For fish

  1. Place onions in food processor and pulse until completely ground.
  2. Add whitefish and pike fillets, sugar, salt, white pepper, eggs and oil to the bowl of the food processor and continue to grind, using a rubber spatula or spoon between pulses to make sure that ingredients are evenly distributed.
  3. Pulse in food processor until mixture is light-colored and evenly textured throughout.
  4. Scoop mixture into a bowl. Wet your hands and form fish into balls, according to your size preference. They should be a little bigger than a walnut but smaller than a matzo ball. They will expand as they cook.
  5. Place them one by one into the broth. When all eight servings are in the pot, make sure heat is low and place top on the pot. Cook gefilte in the pot for 30 minutes.
  6. Remove gefilte with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl or deep serving dish.
  7. Spoon broth over the gefilte and let cool somewhat before placing in the refrigerator.
  8. Remove carrots from broth and cut into rounds ¾ inches thick.
  9. Serve gefilte with carrot pieces and fresh horseradish and get creative with your plating!

*If you prefer, you can skip the broth and poaching, and cook the gefilte fish as a terrine. Oil a loaf pan, smooth the mixture in (with a light coating of olive oil or canola on top). Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, rotating from top to bottom rack halfway through, until set with just a bit of browning in the corners (~40 minutes). Chill, slice, and serve.

Gefilte-Leek Terrine

Yield: One 24-ounce loaf, about 12 slices

Ingredients 

  • 1 medium leek, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 12 ounces whitefish filet, skin removed
  • 4 ounces pike filet, skin removed
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons oil (vegetable or olive oil), plus one extra teaspoon for frying leeks

 Directions 

  1. In a small pan, heat extra teaspoon of oil over medium heat. Add leeks to the pan and sauté, stirring constantly, until leeks are soft and starting to turn golden, about 8 minutes. 
  2. Place leeks and onions in food processor and pulse until completely ground. Add whitefish and pike filets to the bowl of the mixer, along with the sugar, salt, white pepper, eggs and oil. Pulse ingredients until mixture is light-colored and evenly textured throughout, using a rubber spatula or spoon between pulses to make sure that ingredients are evenly distributed.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, line a one pound loaf pan with parchment paper. Scoop mixture into the loaf pan, smoothing out the top of the loaf with the rubber spatula.
  4. Bake gefilte loaf for about 35 minutes, until the corners begin to brown. Let gefilte cool before removing from the loaf pan, slicing and serving with freshly made horseradish.