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Author Notes: The first and only thing you need to know about gefilte fish is that it’s nothing like the scary water-logged fish balls that come out of a Manischewitz jar. Nothing. Not even close. The gefilte fish my grandmother used to make was a taste of heaven (as in, Oy! God-in-heaven-forbid that I shouldn’t make The Fish this year.)
I didn’t learn this recipe at my grandmother’s knee. I know it by heart. Once a year, only on Passover, I call upon the spirit of Sarah Kaplan Tracht and make gefilte fish, by texture, taste and feel, by tradition and ritual, by mixing ingredients that evoke the delicious magic of her kitchen.
I remember The Fish: tender little oval mounds, mild in flavor, with sweet overtones of carrot and onion, a Jewish holiday delicacy served on fine china with a beet-red blast of horseradish. The combination would seem an incongruous affront to the palate, but the full effect shot through the nose straight to the brain, inducing tears and awakening every nerve in the body.
My advice: avoid all recipes that begin with the biblical words, like "On the First Day," and don’t forget the paprika. When it’s all said and done, gefilte fish is easy -- a basic dumpling. —Vivian Henoch
Makes 18 to 24 pieces
- 2 pounds white fish (ground in processor)
- 1 pound haddock or carp (ground in processor)
- 2 large onions (grind one in processor/slice the other fine)
- 1 bunch carrots (grind 3 or 4 in processor/slice the others on the diagonal)
- 2 stalks celery, chopped fine
- 2 bay leaves (for stock)
- 3/4 cup matzoh meal (or more to bind mixture)
- 4 eggs
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon salt or to taste
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 8 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- a few pinches paprika
- 3 or 4 sprigs fresh dill, garnish
- HERE'S WHAT YOU DO: You go to a fish market. You order white fish, whole. You ask the fishmonger to gut, clean, grind, etc. You take home the heads and tails to make the stock or you leave the mess of ‘em at the store and use chicken stock.
- TO START: You take onions and carrots. You chop ‘em fine for the fish mixture. You slice ‘em nice for the stock.
- TO MAKE THE STOCK: In a large roasting pan you bring chicken stock to a simmer, you add fish heads and bones, celery, sliced carrots, sliced onion, bay leaves, salt and simmer (about 20 minutes). You then remove fish bones, heads (debris) and celery from stock.
- TO MAKE THE FISH: In a large bowl you mix the fish and eggs (don't ask exactly how many eggs.) You add chopped onion and carrots. You mix in matzoh meal, don't ask how much. You go by feel here, the mixture should bind easily together. You salt and pepper to taste (who tastes raw fish?). You add a little sugar (who measures?)
- THEN: You put your hands into the bowl, pat and shape the mixture into ovals the size of your palms. You plop them into the prepared stock. You cover and simmer - about 30 minutes - until you're done!
- TO SERVE: Remove fish from stock with slotted spoon, arrange on platter with cooked carrots and onion. Sprinkle with paprika, garnish with dill. Refrigerate. Serve with chopped horseradish.