Let me start of by wishing everyone a Happy Pesach! Pesach is a time where the Jewish people commemorate our liberation from slavery in Egypt. As far as I can remember, my family always came together for Passover Seder on the first two nights of the holiday. The one food item that has been on the table at every one of these Seder’s is Gefilte Fish! Gefilte Fish is a very interesting fish and I have so many fond memories of Gefilte Fish growing up.
The first thing to know about Gefilte Fish, is that there is no such fish called Gefilte Fish. Gefilte Fish is actually a combination of three types of fish, Pike, Whitefish and Carp. The word “Gefilte” is a German word, which means stuffed. Gefilte Fish actually means stuffed fish. Historians can date Gefilte Fish to the medieval times when cooks would debone a Carp, chop it up, add seasoning and stuff it back into the fish. The cooks would then poach the carp in its fish stock.
Every year before Passover, my grandmother would trek all the way from Suffolk County, into the Lower East Side of Manhattan and pick up the fish needed to make Gefilte Fish. It was always an art to watch my grandmother prepare Gefilte Fish. It would take her anywhere from 1-2 days and by the time she was done her entire house stunk like fish. I remember one year my cousin Zoe who must have been about 5 years old, came down the stairs at her house and was holding his nose. I asked him what was wrong and he said “ pee you, Nana’s house stinks.” My grandmother is a fourth generation Gefilte fish maker.
One year my grandmother told us that she could no longer make Gefilte Fish all alone. It was too physical a task to complete anymore by herself. I volunteered to learn how to make it. I think I am the first male in my family to ever learn how to make Gefilte Fish. I spent a weekend at her house one year prior to Passover. I sat her down on a chair in the middle of the kitchen and told her to just point and verbally tell me what to do. I was a quick learner. Most people in my family cant even tell the difference between my Gefilte Fish and my grandmother’s Gefilte Fish.
Each year, including this past weekend, my grandmother and I make Gefilte Fish. It’s our unique bonding experience.
I do things a bit differently. I go to the Seabreeze Fish Market on 4oth Street and 9th Avenue in Manhattan to get the fish. Most of the places in the Lower East Side are gone. I have the fish market chop up the fish and grind it at the store. I just can’t stand the smell and thought of having to clean and chop up the fish like my grandmother and great Grandmother used to do. My grandmother still insists on re-grinding the fish when it gets into her house. One year she sent me to Zabars to buy her an old fashioned meat grinder. She didn’t like the way the fish was ground she said. This past weekend the same thing happened. So I put on a pair of gloves and ground the fish again just to make her happy. She was actually right. Once the fish was ground a second time it looked ready to make it into fish patties.
Even though I have been making the Gefilte Fish mostly by myself for years now, Nana still insists on cleaning the fish heads and bones herself. Yes, the recipe for Gefilte Fish does call for the heads, bones and skins of the fish. Watching Nana take a huge knife and cut off the bad parts of the fish is truly experiencing an artist at work.
Gefilte Fish takes about four to five hours to complete. The final product is delicious and is usually all gobbled up in about 10 minutes. Nobody in my family appreciates the hard work that goes into making Gefilte Fish. Tons of people keep asking me to publish my grandmother’s recipe. I actually never had the recipe written down on paper until now. At the end of this blog post I have included Nana’s recipe, with her permission of course. I can’t wait until Passover approaches each year. Making Gefilte Fish with my grandmother makes me feel more in tune with my Jewish heritage and it’s tons of fun bonding with her. The memories we have made while making Gefilte Fish will last forever.
If you are brave enough to make Nana’s recipe good luck! Email me if you need any help (firstname.lastname@example.org). Happy Pesach again!
5 lbs of ground fish (Pike, Whitefish & Carp)
Note: When grinding the fish, include about three medium white onions. Tell the fish market to package the fish heads, bones and skins in a second bag.
1 Bag of Carrots
1. In a large mixing bowl combine and mix the ground fish, 2 cups of water, 4 eggs and 1 cup of matzoh meal.
2. Once mixed, add a generous amount of salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder to the ground fish. Then mix the ground fish mixture again. Then put the mixture aside.
3. In a large stock pot add chopped white onions to cover the bottom of the pot completely. Then add water so that its half way up the pot. Let the water come to a boil.
4. Once the water boils add the cleaned fish heads, bones and skins to the water. Then add another generous amount of salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder to the water. Add a pinch of paprika to the water.
5. Slice one bag of carrots cross cut and then add them to the water. Once the carrots are in the water let the water boil for about 30-45 minutes.
6. Take the ground fish mixture and make hamburger like patties out of the fish and place them in the pot of boiling water. If the mixture looks stiff add more water to make it thinner. If the mixture doesn’t appear solid enough to make patties add more matzoh meal to firm it up.
7. Let the pot with boiling water and fish patties cook for about 3-4 hours.
8. Once the fish is finished cooking, remove and discard the fish heads, bones and skins. Place the fish patties and carrots into a large container and place it in the refrigerator to cool for at least a day. Take the liquid and put it into a jar and place into the refrigerator to serve as a cool sauce for the Gefilte Fish.