This article first appeared on cjnews.com on 11 Sept. 2008
As the High Holidays approach, one traditional dish is sure to appear on festive tables around the world – gefilte fish.
I can still remember the smell of my mother’s homemade gefilte fish slowly simmering away on the stove when I was a little girl growing up in Winnipeg. My mom would take me with her to the fish market, where she would choose a combination of fresh whitefish, pickerel and pike – no carp ever darkened her gefilte fish! She’d mix the ingredients in her mixmaster and I would watch, fascinated, as the mixture climbed up the beaters until it was silky smooth. Mom insisted that the fish had to cook for at least two hours to be sure it was thoroughly cooked – our house reeked for days afterwards.
I refused to eat gefilte fish despite her efforts. But my Mom was a sneaky cook and quite the maven when it came to recycling food. She’d slice up the chilled gefilte fish, then dip each slice in beaten egg and seasoned bread crumbs (usually homemade). Then she’d fry the slices in melted butter or hot oil on both sides until golden and crispy.
I still love gefilte fish best that way. Instead of an electric mixer, I mix up the gefilte fish mixture in my food processor. I’ve boiled it, baked it in a loaf pan and in a Bundt pan. I’ve even microwaved it to reduce the cooking time and the smell!
I remember when my late aunt, Clara Tobin, decided to cook 20 pounds of gefilte fish one day in her Cote St. Luc apartment. She had several big pots simmering away on several burners and the smell wafted throughout the hallways. My Uncle Jack told us that when he walked into the lobby of their apartment building that evening, he could smell the fish cooking all the way from their 10th-floor apartment! It took several days for the smell to dissipate.
Although many people still make homemade gefilte fish, today’s busy balabustas welcome shortcuts to save on time. Frozen gefilte fish logs and jarred gefilte fish to the rescue!
When I asked my 93-year-old mother what she thought of using the frozen gefilte logs, her answer was “Pheh! If you want gefilte fish, I’ll make you the real thing! What is there to making gefilte fish? Just go to the fish market and buy me some fresh fish. And if you like, I’ll make some cheese knishes for you, too!”
* * *
Natalie Herbin of New Jersey wrote: “I usually take the frozen gefilte fish out of the wrapper and bake it in the oven at 350 F. You can use any type of spices that you like. I prefer to top it with salsa. I bake the fish until it’s golden brown, about an hour or so. It has a very different taste and texture than boiled. My friend uses it to make fish balls and serves it with rice or pasta. Both ways are good.”
Sherry Canter of Toronto wrote: “I often make gefilte fish from the frozen loaves. When I am boiling it, I add sliced carrots and onions, salt, pepper and sometimes a little sugar to the cooking water. Not too exciting but better than using plain water!”
Barb Bakerman of Montreal buys prepared gefilte fish from Kosher Kravings, a caterer in Montreal. She likes to slice it and layer it with paper towelling in a Tupperware container to keep it from being too watery and serves it with a mixture of horseradish and beets.
Abby Rachelson of Montreal wrote: “Moroccans like to put tomato sauce on their gefilte fish and serve it warm. I’ve had it made into tiny balls topped with a spicy tomato sauce. Another time it was made into a loaf, topped with sauce mixed with sliced Moroccan olives.”
Fran Pellatt of Montreal wrote: “Last Passover was the first time I used frozen gefilte fish. In the past, I always bought it ready made in a loaf or jar or tin. What I bought was made from salmon (pink in colour) and I cooked it as per the instructions. I put onions on the bottom of the pot and threw in some carrots so I could have them to put on top of my slices (just like my mother used to do – although she made the gefilte fish from scratch). Everyone loved it.”
* * *
Aliza Novogroder Fischman of North Jersey lives up to her name – she’s definitely a “fisch maven!” She wrote: “One easy thing I like to do is saute a chopped red onion and chopped green pepper in 2 tbsp. oil until soft and golden. Then I take an 8-ounce can of tomato sauce and unwrap the frozen fish loaf. In a loaf pan, I layer half the tomato sauce and sauteed veggies. Then I add the fish loaf and top it with the remaining tomato sauce and veggies. Bake at 350 F for about an hour and it’s done!
“The version below with spinach is one of my favourite ways to make gefilte fish. My kids love it too! It’s in the archives of the Jewish Food list at www.jewishfood-list.com.”
(You’ll also find another 56 recipes how to make gefilte fish from this worldwide online community with 2,100 members from 45 countries!) Enjoy…
ALIZA FISCHMAN’S GEFILTE FISH LOAF WITH SPINACH
Source: My mother, Gittel Novogroder (AKA Uncle Shmiel’s sister)
2 (22 oz. each) frozen gefilte fish loaves, defrosted in their wrappers
2 10-oz. boxes frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 tbsp. mayonnaise (light mayo is fine)
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 F. Make sure fish and spinach are completely thawed. Squeeze the spinach to remove as much of the water as you can. Really try to get it as dry as you can.
Stir all ingredients together in a bowl until spinach is well distributed and the mixture is even in colour. Spray either a 9×5-in. loaf pan or an 8-in. square or round cake pan with nonstick spray.
Pour mixture into the pan and spread evenly. Bake uncovered for about 1 hour or until a golden brown crust forms. Serves 16.
* * *
Naomi Silbermintz of Sherman Oaks, Calif., wrote: “This is incredibly simple to make, uses only two ingredients and looks so impressive. I wish I remembered where I found the recipe so that I could give credit where credit is due! I think I got it from someone on the Jewish Food List.”
NAOMI SILBERMINTZ’ GEFILTE FISH IN PUFF PASTRY
1 (22-oz.) frozen gefilte fish loaf
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
Preheat oven to 350 F. Either thaw the fish loaf enough to remove the paper wrapper or run the wrapped fish loaf under cold water until it defrosts enough to take the inside paper wrapper off.
Wrap the frozen fish loaf in the puff pastry, making sure to fold over the end seams together to seal the pastry. If you get really ambitious, you could fold the seam on top, and maybe flute it to give it a little decorative look. If you are artistic, use cookie cutters or canapé cutters to cut out any shape you want from the excess pastry (fish shapes would be cute!) and decorate the loaf however you’d like. Whichever way you do it, the loaf will look impressive.
Cut a piece of aluminum foil large enough to wrap the entire loaf. Spray the foil first with non-stick spray to prevent the pastry from sticking. Wrap the pastry-wrapped loaf in the foil and seal closed.
Bake the wrapped loaf at 350 F for 1 hour. Open the foil and bake for one more hour to brown and puff up the pastry. Remove from oven and chill completely.
Serve and enjoy! I prefer to place the uncut fish loaf on the table on a rectangular platter, and then cut it as I serve it. When I have guests over, this recipe always makes a big impact! Yield: 6 to 8 servings.
Fancier variation: Peel and cook one large carrot until soft. Defrost the fish loaf just enough so you can split it open. Place the cooked carrot in the centre of the loaf, and press the loaf back together before wrapping the fish in the pastry. Bake as directed above. When you cut a slice of the fish, you will have a disk of carrot in the centre.
* * *
Batsheva Singer (Beth Taveroff), who now lives in Bet Shemesh, Israel, grew up in Dollard des Ormeaux. She shared this easy and elegant recipe for layered gefilte fish with me on Facebook. She wrote: “I usually make three loaves, bake one loaf and freeze the other two, even though the fish was previously frozen. This also looks super made in a 9-inch spring form pan, which I do if I have a big table of guests.”
BATSHEVA SINGER’S THREE-LAYER GEFILTE FISH
This layered loaf is very elegant when you’re serving guests, and it takes 5 minutes to prepare. One layer is plain, the second layer is salmon-coloured and the third layer is flecked with minced dill.
3 (22 oz. each) frozen gefilte fish loaves, defrosted in their wrappers in the refrigerator
1 small can (213 g) red salmon, well-drained
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray 3 loaf pans (9×5 inches each) with nonstick spray.
First Layer: Unwrap one loaf of gefilte fish and divide the mixture evenly between 3 loaf pans; spread evenly.
Second Layer: Unwrap second loaf and put it in the food processor with drained salmon. Process on the steel blade until combined. Divide mixture and spread evenly in loaf pans to make a second layer.
Third Layer: Process dill in the food processor until minced. Unwrap the third loaf and add to the processor bowl; process until combined. Divide mixture and spread evenly in loaf pans to make a third layer. Cover well with aluminum foil.
Bake covered at 350 F approximately 1 hour. Yield: 3 loaves (6 to 8 servings each).
* * *
Jamie Geller, author of Quick and Kosher: Recipes from the Bride Who Knew Nothing (Feldheim) shared her super-simple recipe of cooking a gefilte fish loaf in the liquid from a jar of beet borscht – you certainly can’t “beet” that for simplicity! To see the video showing how Jamie prepares this delightful dish, go to www.ou.org/shabbat_shalom/video/gefilte_fish.
* * *
Donna Steinhorn from Jersey Shore, N.J., wrote: “This isn’t very fancy. I used the jarred gefilte fish (my family prefers sweet). If I’m making this just for my family I use one jar; for a crowd I multiply. When I am making this for a crowd, I buy the pre-sliced carrots to save time. If I am looking to add more colour, I substitute chopped scallions (green onions) for the diced sweet onion, or you can even use a red onion.”
DONNA STEINHORN’S QUICK GEFILTE FISH FROM A JAR
1 jar gefilte fish (my family prefers sweet)
1/2 cup water
1 sweet onion, diced
1 carrot, sliced
Empty gefilte fish into a pot, jelly and all. Add water, onion and carrot slices and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat, cover and simmer about 30 to 45 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Chill in the refrigerator. Yield: 4 servings. Multiplies easily.
* * *
Linda Warner of West Bloomfield, Mich., makes a similar version to Donna’s, but uses a jar of whitefish and pike gefilte fish. Linda wrote: “I do what my mother has done forever. Mom called it ‘doctoring up the jarred fish.’ We drain the liquid (never gel) from a jar of gefilte fish into an empty pot. Add 1 quartered onion with the skin on, 2 sliced carrots and 2 chopped celery stalks. Bring to a boil, then simmer until carrots are soft, 10 to 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, add the fish and let the broth season the fish. Add salt and white pepper to taste. Chill before serving.”
Sandra Phillips of Montreal wrote: “My Mom Flo Phillips from New York City, who usually makes it from scratch, in a pinch, has taken the bottled fish and dumped it into a big pot as if she had made real fish (she normally simmers hers, not bakes). She then adds the jelly from the jar, some water to cover, sliced carrots, sliced onions, sliced celery, some salt and pepper to taste, and simmers it for about 45 minutes so it loses its bottled taste. She serves it with a slice of carrot on top (no celery or onions) and homemade horseradish.”
* * *
Eleanor Jourard of Belleville wrote: “I have used many different types of fish in this fish chowder recipe, from cod to salmon, and it’s always great. I make it with the broth from canned or jarred gefilte fish because I hate to waste good food! I adapted the recipe from one that appeared in The Treasury of Newfoundland Dishes, 1971 (Published by Maple Leaf Mills Ltd., Newfoundland). Note: the original recipe starts with “Fry salt pork… add onions.”)
ELEANOR JOURARD’S GEFILTE FISH BROTH CHOWDER
broth from a jar or can of gefilte fish (or 1/2 cup water)
1 tbsp. butter, oil or margarine
1 or 2 medium onions, chopped
1-1/2 cups peeled and sliced potatoes
salt and pepper to taste
1 lb. any fish fillets, cubed
3 cups milk (2 per cent or skim)
2 tbsp. extra butter (optional)
Drain broth from gefilte fish and reserve.
Melt 1 tbsp. butter in large pot. Saute onions until limp but not browned. Add potatoes, salt and pepper, along with broth. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer on low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add fish and simmer gently about 10 minutes longer, just until fish is opaque. Add more water if necessary.
Add milk and butter and heat gently (do not boil). Serve with soda crackers to crush on top. (If too thin, add some instant potato flakes or a little flour dissolved in water; if too thick, add a little milk.) Yield: 4 servings.