Gelfite = gə-ˈfil-tə-(guh-fil-tuh).
Gefilte means “stuffed fish” in Yiddish and Gefilte Fish is a slightly sweet mixture of minced fish, onions and spices that resembles quenelles. Originally, this fish paste was stuffed back into the fish skin and poached in a simple homemade fish stock but now, you’re more likely to find them in the form of oval fish balls.
Today, gefilte fish is found fairly easily in many Jewish delicatessens, I’m sure you’ve seen them – each topped with a slice of carrot with beet horseradish not too far away. However, traditionally it was a dish served on Shabbat and Jewish holidays by the Ashkenazi Jews, quite often as the first course. As one of the laws of Shabbat prohibits the removing of bones from fish (under the selection rule), the deboned fish mix made the day before is perfect for the occasion.
I worked in North London in the mid 90s for about a year in a predominantly Jewish area and for all that time, my lunch was almost always something bought in one of the kosher outlets there. New in London, this was my introduction to the rich and fascinating Jewish culture, as needless to say, I became friends with a couple of the proprietors of the establishments I frequented. And you know what that means! If there is a kitchen full of knowledge to be digested, you can bet your bottom dollar that I’d somehow find a way in, even one with very strict laws. After all, what’s a girl to do when she wakes up on a Sunday morning after a night of clubbing and fancies gefilte fish?! Learn how to make her own, right?
Not only that, I have also been lucky enough to have travelled to Israel on a number of occasions and despite my dissimilar religious inclination, have been humbled by the number of times I was invited to a shabbat meal by friends and even acquaintances. I must have asked a million questions of them, being a stranger to their customs, and each question was met with amazing equanimity!
I would urge you to make your own fish stock here, all you need is some fish bones, carrots, onions and simmer for about 30 minutes – beats shop bought by a mile! The added advantage of this is that if you do, and you place the finished dish in the fridge, you’ll get a wonderful, light aspic because although it’s equally delicious warm, it’s usually eaten cold.
Ingredients (makes about 12 fish balls)
For the fish balls
500g fish meat, combination of 2 or 3 types of fish (bream, hake, haddock, cod)
1 small onion, finely chopped
40g matzo meal
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten lightly
dash of white pepper
For the fish stock
1 litre water
non oily fishbones and/or fish head
1 large carrot, sliced (a dozen of these are going to make decorations)
1 small onion, quartered
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
5 white peppercorns
1. Make the stock. Place everything in a saucepan, bring to boil.
2. Skim off any scum.
3. Simmer for 30 minutes, then strain, reserving the carrots, being careful not to break them up.
4. The fish balls. Pulse the fish a few times until the fish is finely chopped/minced, being careful not to turn it into a paste. Place in a large bowl.
5. Sprinkle the matzo meal, sugar, salt and pepper all over the fish and mix well with a wooden spoon.
6. Add the egg and mix thoroughly, binding it well. Finish it off with your hands lightly, no squeezing the paste.
7. Cover with a cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.
8. After 30 minutes, wet your hands and form the fish paste into oval shaped fish balls, slightly on the flat side, see pictures.
9. Place the fish stock in a large saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer. Lower the fish balls into the stock, cover and poach away for 30 minutes. Do it in two batches if you have to.
10. Take a large shallow serving dish and place the cooked fish balls in it.
11. Reduce the poaching stock by half and pour all over the fish balls.
12. Decorate each fish ball with a carrot and chill the fridge overnight.
Traditionally served with chrain, a horseradish relish.