Bubbe’s Gefilte Fish
As Hillary mentioned last week, Saturday night began the eight days of the Jewish holiday Passover. And to kick off this Passover blog Mr. Matzah Ball (pictured above) would like to welcome you to the world of Passover cooking. Where flour, corn and rice are off-limits and matzah meal abounds!
As with most holidays – regardless of religion – there are special traditions that every family follows. Last year, I shared our tradition of only eating soup for dinner and I mentioned learning how to make gefilte fish. This year, I’d like to give you a little more insight into the gefilte fish-making process… probably more than you’d like to know.
Gefilte fish is a boiled fish ball made from ground fish (this can be any type of fish, but most people use a combination of whitefish, trout, pike and others), matzah meal and seasonings. Up until my Bubbe (Yiddish for grandma) passed away, she and my aunt used to make the fish every year. Now, the tradition has passed on to me and my aunt who wisely jotted down Bubbe’s cryptic instructions a few years ago.
The key to fantastic, flavorful gefilte fish is a good fish stock. Lucky for me, my aunt handled this part before I got there, so I walked in to a golden broth simmering quietly on the stove. And happily, all of the bones, heads and various other parts of the fish that add deliciousness had already been extracted. Here you can see the gorgeous stock and the remnant fish remains:
We make fish on a pretty large scale, so our recipe makes a little over 50 gefilte fish pieces. We start with about 5 1/2 pounds of ground fish in a large container. To the fish we add eggs, onion, salt, pepper, ice cubes and matzah meal and mix to combine with an electric mixer.
This is where it gets tricky. Every time I thought we were getting close, it would need just a little more mixing. The texture should be thick and sticky. If you run your finger down the middle, it should leave a stiff wake – kind of like what you look for when making risotto.
When the fish is ready, we use an ice cream scooper to portion out each ball. With wet hands, you must gently rock the the ball back and forth until it becomes an oblong shape. We’ve found that the best way to achieve a perfectly smooth shape is to rock your entire body back and forth. It’s silly, but it works!
When the ball is formed, gently lower it into the simmering pot of stock.
Repeat until all of the fish mixture has been used up. We agreed that perhaps this pot was a little over-crowded. Next year we may split it up between two to give them room. But this is a pretty perfect example of what gorgeous gefilte fish should look like.
As we had hoped, they turned out moist and flavorful this year – just as in years past. It’s true it may be an acquired taste and sound odd (and it’s definitely true that my hands smelled like fish for the next 12 hours), but it’s our family tradition and it’s not Passover with out gefilte fish. Bubbe would be so proud.