Chosen Bites: A modern day Gefilte Fish

Add this year's Seder a gourmet touch with Chef's Laura Frankel's Kosher homemade Gefilte.

gefilte fish 311 (photo credit: Bob Fila/Chicago Tribune/MCT)
gefilte fish 311
(photo credit: Bob Fila/Chicago Tribune/MCT)
We have had some intense family discussions on the topic of gefilte fish. My husband loves the stuff all slathered with horseradish and I cannot stand it. He loves the traditional Ashkenzi seder starter so much that he will even eat the jarred and frozen products in a pinch. If I am going to eat it, I make homemade fish.
The project seems daunting but is actually easy and does not involve the cook’s time. Most of the preparation can take care of itself once a few simple steps are completed.
Last year I created a recipe that yields a tasty and brightly flavored gefilte fish. I also took the leftovers and turned them into a crispy Spanish style alternative dish.
I hope these recipes for fish courses will end any heated discussions your family may have regarding gefilte fish.
Homemade Gefilte Fish
Traditionally made from a mixture of carp and pike, gefilte fish means stuffed fish. The fish was deboned and mixed with ground carrots, onions, eggs and matzo meal and then stuffed back into the fish skin. The mixture was then poached in a fish broth and served chilled with the broth spooned over it.
More modern versions have the fish mixture being formed into patties or quenelles and then poached in a fish stock or broth.
Popular with the Ashkenazim, Gefilte fish has religious origins. The act of removing bones from the fish while eating or taking the chaff from the food would make the dish one to avoid on Shabbat and holidays. The deboned fish made the whole quenelle edible and permitted on the holiday.
Homemade gefilte fish is a whole different dish than the unappealing stuff frequently found floating in jars in the kosher aisle of the supermarket. I wanted my version to take the classic to new heights and I used my favorite spring time fish-halibut. I also added fresh herbs and a bit of ginger to brighten the flavors. You won’t find the usual Polish addition of sugar in this .Of course, you can add it if you wish.
6-8 servings
Fish Stock
2 pounds of fish bones from lean fish such as halibut
1 cup dry white wine
2 leeks, chopped, white parts only
1 fennel bulb, chopped
1 stalk lemon grass, chopped
1 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
8 cups of water
½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1.    Place a large stock pot over medium heat. Lightly coat the bottom of the pot with olive oil. Add the fish bones and white wine. Simmer the wine until it is mostly evaporated.
2.    Add the vegetables and water and simmer for 30 minutes, skimming off any foam that appears on the surface. Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to steep.
3.    Strain out the vegetables and bones and discard. Cool the stock completely before storing, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or freezing for 1 month.
For the Fish
I pound halibut, skinless and cut into chunks or ground
1 small onion
1 small carrot
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 eggs
¼ cup matzo meal
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4.    Grind the carrot, onion and halibut in a food processor and process until finely ground.
5.    Transfer the fish mixture to a large mixing bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Stir together until combined thoroughly.
6.    With cold, wet hands, shape the fish into 16 small quenelles (football shapes).
7.    Poach the fish in barely simmering broth for 20 minutes. Gently remove the fish and cool completely. Chill completely and store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or freeze for 1 month.
Gefilte Fish Fritters
This delicious crispy fritter is inspired by the Spanish salt cod dish, bacalao. The delicate fritter is best made with homemade gefilte fish (see recipe, page) but can also be made with purchased fish. I like to serve the fritter with a horseradish aioli (see recipe, page) for a delicious first course or snack. The recipe can easily be doubled to serve a crowd. Any uncooked fritters can be frozen on a sheet pan until they are solid and then stored in a container in the freezer for up to 3 months. Frozen fritters may be cooked directly from the freezer.
Yields-36 fritters
1 pound russet potatoes
1 medium Spanish onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds gefilte fish
2 egg whites
1 cup potato starch
1 cup matzo meal
1 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
Kosher for Passover oil for frying (I use a good quality but less expensive extra virgin olive oil)
About 3 teaspoons of salt
1 ½ pepper teaspoons of pepper
Garnishes- additional chopped parsley, sea salt
1.    Place the potatoes, onion and garlic in a medium saucepan. Add 1 cup of water and simmer the mixture until the potato is cooked through, very soft and the liquid has almost evaporated. Let the mixture cool.
2.    Pulse the gefilte fish and cooled potato mixture in a food processor until they are well combined and the mixture is thick. Transfer to a mixing bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Stir to combine.
3.    Scoop the gefilte fish fritters on to a parchment lined sheet pan. The fritters can be frozen at this point or fried to serve.
4.    Heat at least 3 inches of oil in a heavy duty saucepan to 360 degrees. You can check this with a thermometer or place a wooden spoon handle in the oil and if bubbles appear immediately around the spoon, the oil is ready.
5.    Fry the fritters in batches, being careful not to over crowd the pan, until they are browned and float (about 4 minutes for fritters fried at room temperature and about 8 minutes for frozen fritters. Remove the fritters from the oil with a slotted spoon and immediately place them on a plate lined with paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and additional chopped parsley.
Salmon “Schmear” with Horseradish Aioli with Cucumbers and Jicama (Chips and Dip)
I created this dish when I needed a fish first course alternative to gefilte fish. I gave each dinner guest their own beautiful plate with a mound of this heavenly chopped salmon dish. My son Jonah loved it and demanded it again. I added cream cheese and served it for breakfast, and a family classic was born.
Now, I serve this brightly flavored salmon dish as a first course to a meal, a snack, a light lunch or for a festive breakfast.
(Pareve or Dairy)
Serves 8 as an appetizer
8 ounces smoked salmon (I do not use lox here; it is too salty, I prefer Wild Alaskan Smoked Salmon filets)
1/2 cup mayonnaise, purchased or homemade
3 tablespoons cream cheese (can be omitted for pareve preparation)
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
¼ cup finely diced red onion
¼ cup finely diced peeled and seeded cucumber
¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice + 2 tablespoons for the jicama
Salt and pepper
3 large English or seedless cucumbers
1 large jicama
Suggested garnishes: chopped hardboiled eggs, chopped pickles, thinly sliced radishes, matzo,
1.    Finely chop the smoked salmon and place in a medium mixing bowl.
2.    Add the mayonnaise, cream cheese (if using) and horseradish. Mix well until the ingredients are combined and the salmon binds together.
3.    Fold in the diced red onion, cucumber and chopped parsley. Add the lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill completely
4.    Cut the English cucumbers into ¼ inch thick rounds and arrange on a platter.
5.    Peel the jicama and cut into ¼ inch thick slices and add them to a container with the 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and 2 cups of cold water. This will keep the jicama from turning brown.
6.    Dry the jicama and arrange on the platter with the cucumber slices.
7.    Mound the Schmear onto the platter and garnish with chopped hardboiled eggs, fresh herbs, chopped pickles and radish slices.
8.    The Salmon Schmear can be prepared and stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days before serving.