Friends keep gefilte fish tradition alive

Gefilte fish
Gefilte fish (etorres69/ iStock/Getty Images Plus)

By Wendy S. Laskin

Each year, just before Passover, my friends Betsy Hill, Beth Rosenberg and I make gefilte fish from scratch. Betsy is always the host because she has a remodeled kitchen and a huge stove where we can work.

Originally, we ordered the ground fish from Whole Foods, but after years of explaining that whitefish is really a type of fish and not just any fish that was white, we gave up. I purchased a grinder for my “monster mixer” and after that, we ground our own fish.

During the cooking process, we each would have a different job. I collected various gefilte fish recipes for review (that we never used); Beth prepped the ingredients and made sure we had the freshest dill from the local farmers market; and Betsy would clean up after me – I am a messy cook. I would also taste test to see if the gefilte fish needed more salt.

We would talk, laugh and know that the kitchen would smell of fish for days. As we formed each patty, each of us had an opinion. Should they be round? Should they be flat? Should they be oval? Should they be as big as the palm of our hand – and whose hand should we use as a measurement?

As we cooked, we talked about our relatives. Of the mom who sort of had a recipe; the aunt who, like an artist, shaped each patty carefully; and the grandma who added fresh herbs and carrots along with the fish bones to make the broth.

We talked about who liked to cook and who did not. We spoke of holidays gone by when we were children, became adults and eventually parents. We remembered who came to our seders, who led them, who sang and which kids slept through them. The memories of our relatives kept us company as we cooked.

The three of us cooking together is as important as the seder itself. It has been how we prepare for the holiday. With one another, we are able to share our love and respect for our traditions and how we treasure them.

I can’t wait to do it again next year.

Gefilte fish

Makes 20-25 servings

Recipe by Wendy S. Laskin

  • 5 pounds assorted fish fillets*
  • 5 eggs
  • 2 large onions, finely grated
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • Salt to taste (1 tablespoon plus)
  • White pepper to taste
  • 4 tablespoons grated carrots
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
  • ¼ cup matzah meal (or more to get the right texture)
  • 2-3 32-ounce containers vegetable broth
  • Peeled carrots, fresh dill and fresh parsley (for broth)
  • Chopped parsley and paprika for garnish
  • Horseradish

Grind the fish. Mix ground fish with the eggs, onions, sugar, salt, white pepper, carrots, parsley and matzah meal until the mixture has the texture of “a bit softer than when making meatballs.”

Note: Don’t make the fish mixture too salty because the fish patties will soak up salt from the broth during cooking.

Fill two large soup pots halfway with equal parts water and vegetable broth. Add peeled carrots, fresh dill and fresh parsley (exact amounts are not required). Bring to a boil.

With wet hands, take heaping tablespoons of chopped fish and form into oval patties. Carefully add fish patties to the broth. Bring to a fast boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 1½ to 2 hours. Add additional broth if necessary as fish patties cook.

Remove pots from the stove and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Carefully remove patties from broth and refrigerate until ready to use. Before serving, garnish with chopped parsley and paprika.

Serve with horseradish on the side.

*Traditionally, a mix of whitefish, pike and carp was used. If it is difficult to get all these varieties of fish, use a combination of firm, white-fleshed fish such as cod, hake and halibut. Also, add a bit of salmon or steelhead trout for flavor.

Wendy S. Laskin is a resident of Phoenix. This originally ran in the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

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