At a dinner party recently, we were trying to figure out what foods capture the flavour of a cultures cooking but might not be appreciated elsewhere. The Chinese like congee, a rice gruel few non-Sinophiles request. The Scots, and perhaps only the Scots, enjoy haggis. Québecois crave cretons. And then, for the Jews, there is gefilte fish.
Its gefilte, sometimes gefulte. To quote from Leo Rostens The Joys of Yiddish Pronounced ge-FILL-teh fish. From the German stuffed fish. Fish cakes or fish loaf, made of various fishes which are chopped or ground and mixed with eggs, salt and lots of onions and pepper. Sometimes with sugar. The traditional Friday night fish, served at the Sabbath dinner.... delicious, hot or cold ... with red or white chrayn (horseradish).
Only chez nous, my mate, born in Poland, does not like chrayn with her fish. Her mother, also from Poland, used to make gefilte fish with lots of sugar as was her custom while my mates father, who came from a different part of Poland, hated it sweet. I like the carrots grated coarsely so the dish has more texture. And so it goes.
Once, in the days before Vatican II, my teen-age friend Jean-Pierre was at our house for an erev shabbos (Friday night) meal. In those days good Catholics did not eat meat on Fridays and Jews traditionally ate plenty of it - a brisket of beef, a roast chicken, something carnal for feasting. We looked in the fridge for something for Jean-Pierre and came out with gefilte fish. He went home and raved about the meal. His mother called. Where do you get this fish? she asked. He never eats fish at home. Oh its easy, my mother said, we get it from a jar.
Well, not quite; and certainly not on this page.
Real gefilte fish is traditionally made from several kinds of fish. Dore, pike and whitefish are common but others could be used. The fish used to be chopped, mixed with seasonings à la Rosten and stuffed back into the skin of the largest of the fish and baked or steamed. The process took hours and the house stank of overcooked fish for days. Quite often the final product resembled Montagnard bowling balls. However, there is a better way.
This is a simple recipe for light, easy to make and authentic gefilte fish. It is prepared in a microwave oven in a glass bundt pan. This is essential. The uniform shape of the pan and its open centre enable the fish to cook perfectly. Unmolded, the dish looks great plus there is an opening just right for placing a large mound of red chrayn.
Fresh horseradish is only available intermittently so buy a jar and keep it in the fridge. However, several fish mongers have the requisite ground fish mixture on hand. New Victoria Fish at 6015 Victoria (737-4873) sells it at $5 a pound.
This recipe is based on a medium-sized glass bundt pan. After you make this once, adjust the recipe according to the size of your pan.
2 lb. minced fish
2 onions chopped
2 eggs beaten
4-5 tablespoons matzoh meal
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 carrot finely grated
1 cup cold water (fish stock is better)
Combine all ingredients well. Place in a glass bundt pan sprayed with Pam. Smooth the fish so that it is even and shake it a bit to get any large air bubbles out. Slowly pour a 1 layer of water or fish stock on top. This prevents a skin from forming as it cooks. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and poke a couple of holes in the wrap to vent the steam. Microwave on high for 20 minutes, turning the dish once after 10 minutes if you dont have a turntable in the oven. If you are using a greater amount of mix increase the cooking time proportionately.
Cool the fish, pour the liquid into another container and unmold gently. More liquid will drain from the fish as it cools. Siphon this with a turkey baster. Serve the liquid in a gravy boat or freeze it to use for the next batch of gefilte fish.