Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Rosh Hashanah Interlude: Making Gefilte Fish

My grandma has long wanted to show me the art of making gefilte fish, with multiple calls at random times absolutely insisting that we set a date. (Or else she would withhold honey cake and mandel bread.) Since it's so labor intensive, she and my mother will make one giant batch for the High Holidays and hope it lasts. Luckily for me, I just happened to be home this past Labor Day weekend for Gefilte Fish-athon 2010. (This also presented a perfect opportunity for a Rosh Hasahanah post in order to make me feel better for being the non-observant that Jew I am.)

We were unable to convince my grandma to relax and let us all do the work and have her supervise-- she apparently woke up at 6 AM the day before to grind the fish-- not something my mother and I were willing to do (generational thing, I guess). Even still I "sacrificed" by getting up at 9AM after a long night of partying to help make the gefilte.

This is a lot more fish than it looks-- around 8 pounds of walleye and whitefish. With so much, everything needed to be done in three batches, and we were constantly dividing all the instructions by a third-- something neither myself nor my grandma and mother are particularly good at-- so things mostly end up being eyeballed. This also conveniently allows me to get away with not giving a specific recipe, which I feel would be a breach of my grandma's trust, though I doubt she would really care.

OK then, with the fish already ground the first step is to do the same to the carrots and onions.

I made quick work of the carrots. Next, add 5 beaten eggs, matzoh meal, salt, white pepper, sugar and ground onions (with juice).

Mix that sucker up some more, then add ice water. The fun part is tasting the raw batter for seasoning. I suggested maybe just cooking a small piece before trying it, but was shot down by my grandma. Raw fish and eggs is perfect on an empty stomach after a long night of drinking.

We made three batches in the Kitchen-Aid before pouring them all into this giant bowl. Then, we drove from my grandma's house to my parents for the next step (I guess you could skip that part if you were so inclined).

I sucked at forming the fish-- it's hard to get the pieces sufficiently smooth and round. I was also making gigantic horse pill-sized gefilte fish (much drama ensued, when, after counting the finished gefiltes, we found that there were less than 70 pieces when we had anticipated about 100. Totally not my fault).

The picture below is one my mom made. Knowing my mother, she'll be extremely self conscious that a picture of her hands is posted on the internet.

Three pots on a rolling boil with carrots and onions added in. That's a lot of gefilte.

After an hour and a half (seemingly an excessive amount of time, but I won't argue with the twin gods of Tradition and Deliciousness), the gefilte fish is ready to be drained and packed.

See the fish done and topped with pretty little boiled carrot pieces. I prefer gefilte fish chilled, but others are fans of eating it hot. Top with a big pile of sinus-clearing white horseradish and you're onto something.

Hey now you have a bunch of free fish stock too. My mom complained that, with three pots, there was way too much fish stock left over. I told her to boil it down some more to concentrate the flavor, but she ignored me. What do I know besides having the unearned authority that comes from writing an anonymous blog on the internet?

Be warned: making gefilte fish will stink up your house (and your clothing and skin) even more than can be anticipated. However, the side effect of having hordes of cats follow you around all day is the price one pays for this classic Jewish delicacy.

Shana tovah! (Or, as my phone auto-corrected it: Shaman Toad!)


  1. Loved the post. Loved the fish. Love it that you will carry on the tradition! Aunt Sherri

  2. Looking forward to trying my frozen piece on Friday! - Cuz Courtney

  3. Thanks guys. i think someone may have lost a ring in the batter-- so be careful.