Suspended in sluggish waters, thick and unclear, swim the fearful and misunderstood gefilte fish. The objectionable looking creature found at the end of the “ethnic” aisle at most groceries, just past the Tam Tam crackers and other oddities, the gefilte is nothing more than a fish meatball.
Passover, the gefilte high season, begins next week (at least I think it does, the Jewish calendar is always a tough one for a Jewish family where its youngest son, my brother, finds it necessary to write a book asking the question, Am I a Jew?).
Making gefilte is more art than science, requiring the cook to add little bits of this and adjust with little bits of that.
Choose your fish
Start by choosing the fish. Pike, white fish, or carp are traditional, although in France, a similar dish is made from all types of fish and called quenelle.
Mince “the chosen” fish into a fine paste, using a chef’s knife or food processor.
To the minced fish, add grated carrots and onions. Use the vegetables sparingly or risk a sweet gefilte.
Mix the fish mixture by hand with egg and enough matzo meal to bind the mixture together. The more meal you add, the softer (although less flavorful) the gefilte will taste
Season the mixture generously with salt and less generously with white pepper.
Make the poaching liquid
In a large pot; make a flavorful poaching liquid with water, salt, a dash of white vinegar, a few peeled carrots, and a bay leaf (if you have one). Bring the poaching liquid to a simmer.
Taste and adjust
THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP in making gefilte fish or any meatball is to taste a small amount and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Make a small ball and cook it in the liquid. Taste the cooked ball and adjust the gefilte mixture and the poaching liquid, adding salt, water, or matzo meal.
Form and cook
Form the gefilte into oblong meatballs, football-ish in shape, roughly 2 to 3 inches long. Lower the formed gefilte into the simmering liquid, taking care not break them. Cook them for roughly 20 minutes depending on the size of the balls.
Cool the cooked fish in the poaching liquid in shallow tray.
Gefilte fish can be made up to a week in advance and stored in the poaching liquid.
Serve chilled with minced parsley and spoonfuls of horseradish.
I like to smash the gefilte fish using the back of a fork into planks of salted and buttered matzo.