Nothing Is Wasted: Using the Whole Fish Jewish Style

A delicious fish recipe from a satisfied Off the Hook subscriber…

I used to think that gefilte fish wasn’t for the faint of heart.

By the faint of heart, of course, I mean non-Jews.

Then, after a Passover feast I hosted a few years ago in Halifax, and another in Paris in 2009, I noticed that the non-Jews were even more excited about this old-school Ashkenazi Jewish delicacy than even my parents or grandparents were.

What is gefilte fish? They are like meatballs – mixing ground whitefish of any kind with carrots, onions, matzo meal (this is flour + water, baked into flat crunchy bread made especially for Passover, and then broken back down into what is basically again flour for use in cakes, matzo balls, gefilte fish, etc. Do not ask me why Jews do this.) The balls are boiled in fish stock and chilled. They are usually served alone as an appetizer, along with cooked carrots and beet (red) horseradish.

This could easily be made using groundfish from the Off The Hook CSA – cod, haddock, hake would all work, but any other whitefish would make a delicious substitute (I have made gefilte from tilapia, pollock and silver hake). In Toronto and other cities with large Jewish populations, you can easily buy pre-ground fish to make gefilte. In Halifax, good luck. Buy fresh whole fish, filet the meat and boil the rest per the below.

1.5kg whitefish meat
bones, head, skin and everything else (from the above)
5 onions, sliced
2L water
20ml salt
10ml freshly ground pepper
30ml sugar
3 eggs
175ml cold water
45ml matzah meal
3 carrots, sliced

1. Combine fish bones, head, skin with onions in a large pot. Add 2L water, 10ml of the salt, 5ml of the pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer while preparing the next steps.
2. Place the fish meat in a food processor and lightly grind (you could grind by hand if you prefer). Move the fish to a bowl, add the sugar, eggs, cold water, matzah meal and all of the remaining salt and pepper. Wet your hands and shape into balls about 5-7cm around.
3. Place the fish in the simmering liquid and add carrots. Be careful not to skewer the fish balls on the bones at the bottom of the pot. Lower the heat and cover loosely. Cook 1.5h. Uncover and cook 0.5h longer.
4. Cool slightly and remove the fish balls to a bowl. Strain the stock remaining in the pot over the gefilte fish (i.e. leaving bones and skin behind). Reserve some carrots to garnish the fish when serving.
5. Chill well (preferably overnight) and serve with beet (red)
horseradish, and with the carrots on the side.

The stock may have turned to jelly in the bowl as it cooled, and is delicious on toast.

One more important note: there is a genealogical distinction called “the gefilte fish line” which, if you’re Jewish, can tell you where your family may be from in the old country. If you add more sugar to the above recipe, to produce a slightly sweet-tasting gefilte, you are from the west, known as a Galicianer in Jewish. You are probably from Poland or Ukraine. If this idea you find slightly odd or repellent, you are from east of the line, and known as a Litvak. You are possibly from Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus or Russia.

I can tell you that I am solidly in the latter camp – and while I would eat a sweetened gefilte fish (when do Jews turn down food?), I would not hold back complaining about it.

by Adam Fine /

One thought on “Nothing Is Wasted: Using the Whole Fish Jewish Style

  1. Pingback: A Holiday Feast of Sustainable Fishes, Nova Scotia style | Small Scales

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