When I say that I’m working on a Jewish cookbook, a common response is “Is there anything besides gefilte fish?” (Claudia Roden in The Book Of Jewish Food, 2003.)
Roughly corresponding to the time it took our girls to grow up and move to California, bagels had become assimilated. Gefilte fish was still Jewish food, but not bagels. (Calvin Trillin in Feeding a Yen, 2004.)
A Short Introduction to Gefilte Fish
Famed New York Times food critic Mimi Sheraton once wrote that gefilte fish, Yiddish for “stuffed fish”—nowadays served as poached or fried oblong fish patties—is “part of the holy trinity of Jewish holiday eating: chicken soup, chopped liver, gefilte fish.” 1
All these are made of fish forcemeat. But there’s one essential difference: The Jewish dish lacks dairy products and therefore can be served at the same meal as meat since Jewish kosher laws forbid the mixing of dairy and meat in any meal.
A gefilte fish forcemeat mixture for poaching can be shaped into quenelles, oval patties or dumplings.
Traditionally, at Jewish weddings in a shtetl (a small Jewish village or town in Eastern Europe), the forcemeat would often be stuffed back into the intact skin of a whole fish—head and tail still attached. This so-called chasseneh fish, or wedding fish, would be poached and, once chilled, sliced and presented on a platter as a forspeis (starter), at the dinner.
The forcemeat can also be stuffed into the hollow part of fish slices—also known as fish steaks. The latter is often made by Jewish caterers today in frum (pious) neighborhoods.
Here in Vienna, the different presentations of poached gefilte fish would have been found in pre-Holocaust Jewish kitchens and were likely popular with Jews who had immigrated from the now-defunct Austro-Hungarian empire.
On the other hand, fried fish cakes made out of the forcemeat mixture were eaten by the city’s gentile crowd and featured in widely distributed cookbooks of the Austro-Hungarian empire, like the famous Kochbuch der Deutschen Kochschule in Prag (1894), which Sigmund Freud’s family owned a copy of.
The dish supposedly originated in the Sefaradi Jewish communities of Spain and Portugal and was probably brought to Vienna following many detours, only to end up in this famous gentile cookbook.
Landmark cookbooks such as Claudia Roden’s The Book Of Jewish Food (2003), and Evelyn Rose’s The New International Jewish Cookbook (1992) suggest a single gefilte fish forcemeat mixture that can be fried or poached.
Here I present two different recipes for the mixture reflecting the composite character of Vienna’s Jewish population: One is from Eastern Galicia, a typical sweet Hasidic immigrant’s version. The other is the 1894 cookbook’s version with pepper and fresh herbs instead of sugar.
Yes, gefilte fish is huge in the Jewish universe and dates back to the old world’s shtetls. According to John Cooper’s Eat and Be Satisfied – A Social History of Jewish Food, the dish was first mentioned as far back as the medieval era, but is probably older still: “Undoubtedly the dish of chopped fish mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud was the ancestor of gefilte fish (Shabbat 118b).“
For many generations, gefilte fish is served in Jewish families every week as the first course in honor of Shabbos and holidays. One of many reasons to eat fish on the sabbath is because the gematria (a Kabbalistic method of computing the numerical value of words) of דג, fish in Hebrew, is seven, thus the seventh day, Shabbat. Also, since the fish is generally served cold, it lends itself perfectly to the day of rest where no cooking or reheating is allowed.
You might know this cheesy joke your favorite uncle tells every Shabbos: “How do we know that gefilte fish is a Jewish dish?” And everybody to reply: “Because the fish wears a kapl.” And you to explain to your brother’s gentile girlfriend: “The kapl in this instance is the slice of carrot every fish patty wears, just like a pious Jew wears a yarmulka, which in Yiddish translates as kapl.“
Frank Gehry’s Fishy Inspiration
When gefilte fish is served, guests at a Shabbos table are also often tempted to make a talking point out of the relation between gefilte fish and star architect Frank Gehry, née Goldberg—yes, he changed his name because of anti-Semitism.
They have probably read one of the Jewish sites or magazines that inevitably come up every holiday with the nth post on Frank Gehry and how he grew up with a live carp in his bathtub so that his grandmother could have fresh gefilte fish for Shabbos. Leaving it in the bathtub—rather than, say, pulling it fresh from a lake—also removes the muddy taste.
The memory of the fish in the bathtub is a common one—my mother recalls the same. It would seem that this memory should have inspired Gehry’s work, which is what was initially claimed by critics. But later, he denied that storyline, claiming instead that his inspiration came during a talk when he was looking at a Japanese fish tank filled with carp.
But who knows what kind of unconscious bathtub childhood memory could have made him go for fish!
Gehry’s memories are so archetypal that we will repeat them here for those readers who are unfamiliar with them.
Previous to the interview where he denies his fish inspiration, Gehry had described the impact of these childhood gefilte memories:
“In Toronto, when I was very young, my grandmother and I used to go to Kensington, a Jewish market, on Thursday morning. She would buy a carp for gefilte fish. She’d put it in the bathtub, fill the bathtub with water, and this big black carp—two or three feet long—would swim around in the bathtub and I would play with it. I would stand up there and watch it turn and twist … and then she’d kill it and make gefilte fish and that was always sad and awful and ugly.”
Regarding the fish’s perfect form, he adds:
“I was watching the beauty of carp swimming in a pool in Japan and thinking about how elegant and architectural they were. It inspired a beginning of a study of these forms … That study took a few years. It then became a language that I guess became Bilbao and a few other projects.” 4
Gefilte Fish‘s Challenging Reputation
If you were a Jewish child in the 1970s, chances are that you are more or less revolted by the idea of eating gefilte fish, just like every decent human being that grew up reading The Carp In The Bathtub by Barbara Cohen (illustrated by Joan Halpern).
First published in 1972, the tale features two children who come to love and care for fish as guests in the family’s bathtub, despite the fact that they are destined to be turned into gefilte fish. When it’s time for their transformation, their mother, armed with a club, will give the animal one deadly blow to the head. This is a definitive anti-gefilte fish story to everyone who’s read it!
But sooner or later with maturity, like many Jews before you, you will realize that gefilte fish isn’t so bad after all, and at its best is very good, excellent even—See Rebecca Flint Marx’s exemplary story in the New Yorker.
Like many, I was used to eating gefilte fish out of a jar, and, you will think I’m crazy, because unlike many people, I still like them out of the jar, though this depends on the brand. Commercial gefilte fish in jars is certainly an acquired taste and would likely be off-putting to newcomers, to say the least.
Where the homemade fish dumplings are light and flavorful, the commercial variety is heavy and bland. Its presentation leaves much to be desired as well: grayish, surrounded by jelly, like a horrible reminder of a dark and smelly shtetl past, a hurdle to assimilation. And because it is such an acquired taste, it’s also a rather tough hurdle for anyone converting to Judaism.
Gefilte fish of any kind is a controversial subject among Jews, and when it comes to jars, things get even worse. In any case, and whether you like it or not, it seems an indelible identity marker.
Gefilte fish is one of the most contentious foods within Ashkenazi [Jewish European] cuisine. Some people adore the chilled fish appetizer and can’t imagine a Jewish holiday without it. Others find it utterly unpleasant. It is rare to find someone whose opinion exists in the middle of these two poles. (Lea Koenig, The Jewish Cookbook, 2019.)
When I was a student in Paris, I sometimes lived from jars of gefilte with red chrain (or kreyn), sweetened horseradish relish turned red from beets. To be true, I have to admit that I used them as a vehicle for the sweet and hot chrain. Till today, gefilte fish is one of the only ready-made dishes that sometimes enter my kitchen, though admittedly more out of sentimental value than for its taste!
I was aware that this incline towards gefilte fish was literally unshareable, as I do not remember having ever offered it to any of my Parisian friends, be they more or less assimilated Jews or regular gentiles. You see, gefilte fish is a sort of shibboleth to me, only the initiated know how to pronounce it correctly—only a few can appreciate gefilte fish even out of a jar, at least certain brands. So, I kept my ritual a secret. It felt like a sort of guilty pleasure in this place famous for its haute cuisine.
Every Ashkenazi Jew probably has his own story with gefilte fish. In fact, for many Jews, gefilte fish is a Jewish Proustian madeleine, a direct connection to soothing childhood memories through food. But if they had a lucky childhood, this madeleine wasn’t out of a jar.
I guess you will probably think a lot less of me, in culinary terms at least, now that I told you this little secret. But even to me, the commercial variety is a pale imitation of the homemade one which of course tastes way better… so much so that it’s almost a different thing entirely.
Making gefilte fish from scratch is a labor-intensive undertaking, though less than you might think (see recipes below).
From Family’s Fish to Rabbi’s Tish
It was in the late 2000s, on one of my family’s visits to the Bleibergs in Bnei Brak, Israel that we, well my wife really, finally asked them about their marvelous gefilte fish recipe from Galicia, the south of today’s Poland, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. (There lies since the mid-nineteenth century the historic birthplace of sugar root plantations and sugar factories, hence the many sweet recipes.)
Of all the Chasidic, authentic gefilte fish we had tasted, this was surely one of the very best homemade family treasures.
Mr. Bleiberg was a mashgiach, a person who supervises the kashrus (kosher) status of the most prestigious kosher establishments in the region. Over time, he and his wife had developed sophisticated taste buds and a corresponding gefilte fish recipe to rise up to these standards. The recipe was high quality, but still, a classic, pious one based on family traditions.
As a well-practiced cook, when we asked his wife for the recipe, she had everything in her head… “You take a little bit of this and add a handful of that.”
So, in order to share it with you, we sat down and measured everything precisely.
This recipe à la Bleiberg is a typical poached gefilte fish stuffed back not into the skin but into fish steaks. It’s the kind of gefilte fish a Hasidic Rebbe would be served at his court’s Tish (Yiddish for “table”) or at Seudah shlishis (Shabbos afternoon meal). Both types of gatherings of Hasidim around their Rebbe were holy events.
The recipe is really balabatish in the best possible sense—according to the urban dictionary, this is an old outdated mentality, a Jewish form of snobbery, which I would translate as homey yet distinguished.
Gefilte Fish: A Sacred Tradition
The making and eating of gefilte fish is such an ingrained part of religious life that in ultra-orthodox circles, every bride to be must not only know how to bake challah, the Jewish holiday bread but also how to prepare gefilte fish. (Views on who has to prepare cholent, on the other hand, are looser and it is sometimes the husband that does so, even in very pious circles.)
But knowing how to prepare gefilte fish before getting married is not only a precondition to marriage in religious circles. The costume prevails in some rare secular families too (see the video below).
The mystical teachings of Judaism link fish to the coming of the Messiah. Ultimately, all religious Jews dream of feasting with the messiah sitting under a canopy made out of the skin of the Leviathan, the giant fish from the sea who will be served up to the righteous at the end of time.
Eating fish on Shabbos is thus a declaration of faith in the coming of the Messiah, and his ability to bring upon us peace and harmony in the days to come when every day will be as peaceful and calm as a Shabbos.
I’m quite certain that the dish they will make out of the flesh of the Leviathan is, you’ve guessed it, gefilte fish. And you have to tell the gefilte fish patty lovers that this will not be stuffed back into anything, as the skin of the giant monster will instead be used as a sunshade.
The reference to this feast of the Leviathan is one hint as to why one eats fish on Shabbos and other holidays. Though there are other sources (in the Talmud, for example,) about multiplying and striving like fish, here are the two most well-known rationales:
- The numerical value of the letters of the Hebrew word for fish, dag (דג), add up to seven, and seven, among other things, always alludes to Shabbos, the day of rest.
- As Shabbos is a day of rest, Jewish law forbids even small activities like selecting or sorting things, which is called borer. So you can’t sort out the fish bones that you do not want to eat from the meat of the fish. It, therefore, becomes very difficult to eat fish on Shabbos. The ground-up fish meat solves the problem as it is devoid of fish bones.
But as all male Haredim (Orthodox Jews) study religious law, they learn the laws of Shabbos. So they know that when you pick out the edible good stuff, thus the meat from the fish, and not the inedible unwanted stuff, the fish bones, this is not considered to constitute an act of borer, sorting/selecting.
Yep, these are the subtleties of religious law. In frum circles it is thus not unusual to eat fish with bones on Shabbos or a Yom Tov, holiday. Slowly, and sometimes painstakingly, picking out the good meaty parts of the fish shows your devotion to keeping the laws of Shabbos.
A Secular Identity Through Food
Like many secular people, I’m interested in Jewish observance and Jewish traditions, especially and foremost of culinary ones. This is the central object of this blog. Culinary traditions as they pertain to Jewish Vienna, with an accent on Vienna 1900 around Sigmund Freud.
With regards to this focus on culinary folklore, I’m not that different from my fellow Jews. Many people want to be Jewish not because of the holocaust but because it’s so much fun and very tasty to be Jewish, to be a pious culinary Jew. (And I’m a Haredi, an ultra-orthodox, in these matters.)
But it is assuredly correct that the Shoa, the extermination of the Jews of Europe, also often plays an important role as a motivation to reenact, preserve and reanimate the remnants of Jewish culture in its practices and customs.
Gefilte fish is part of Jewish cultural heritage, known by all Jews, or at least the Ashkenazi ones.
The dish is so popular that it was used in a famous incident, or so the joke goes, as a shibboleth, a password by a soldier in Tsahal, the Israeli defense force. The poor soldier, a recent immigrant to the Holy land, didn’t know Hebrew yet. So he shouted gefilte fish as a password.5
Gefilte fish really became the symbol of Jewish identity, especially Ashkenazi Jewish American identity. This also happened with the help of shows and sitcoms in the US, notably the first Jewish television show, The Goldbergs with Gertrud Berg, born in Harlem as Tillie Edelstein, who played the legendary lead character, Molly Goldberg.
Gertrud Berg went on to write together with Myra Waldo her most influential The Molly Goldberg Cookbook which established gefilte fish and other Ashkenazi fares in the hall of fame of Jewish food.
This publication coincided with another important element of gefilte fish’s popularization. It was due to the arrival around that same time of commercial gefilte fish in jars on the mass market.
For most secular people today, gefilte fish is associated with Rosh Hashanah and Passover. But for most Hasidim who do not eat gebrokt on Passover, for whom it is forbidden to mix matzo and water, there’s no gefilte fish on Passover, and no matzo balls either. They are both served all year round just not on Passover. Although there are kosher for Passover adaptations of these recipes that avoid the mixing of matzo meal and water by using potatoes and/or potato starch instead of matzo meal.
But there are those who don’t even eat fish during Passover. The reasons for this are obscure. One explanation is that there were no fish in the desert, and therefore, none could be eaten during Passover. So over the course of this holiday, we eat what is called falshe fish, mock or “false fish,” chicken patties in the shape of gefilte. But we do keep the red chrain, the sweet beet horseradish relish, with these mock fish patties.
Gefilte Fish in Old Vienna
All these traditions live on today, even here in Vienna. The poached gefilte fish version is primarily from the Hungarians and other Ashkenazi Jews. The fried version lives on mainly in the Sefardi community. The whole tradition, of course, is much less widespread since the murder of the Jews of Europe during World War II.
Rebbisha gefilte fish, or rabbi style gefilte fish, which is stuffed back into fish steaks, was in all likelihood also served at the table of famous rabbis in Vienna. Even though poached gefilte fish was never the most popular Shabbos fish in western and central Europe, thus in Vienna, the many Jewish immigrants and refugees around 1900 and after World War I had brought the poached fish dumplings and the stuffed fish with them.
To name just one place where poached gefilte fish was most likely served in Vienna every Shabbos and holiday, there was Rabbi Israel Friedmann’s table, the illustrious Czortkower Rebbe, grandson of the so-called “holy one of Ruzhin,” who precisely moved to Vienna after World War I where he conducted his court with pomp and majesty until he passed away in 1933.
Vienna’s gentile population destroyed the Czortkower shul in 1938 during the pogrom of November 9th and thereafter.
But gefilte fish was not just food for rabbis; communities of East European immigrants and their descendants ate and still eat poached gefilte fish. The Sefardim still eat fried gefilte fish cakes. The gentile population seemingly has lost its taste for it. But the German fast-food chain Nordsee still serves fried fish cakes in a bun at their Viennese branches.
Vienna’s famous pre-Holocaust kosher restaurant Neugröschel featured a large aquarium with live carp showcased in a window display facing Lilienbrunngasse-street (See my post about Kaiserschmarrn for more on Neugröschel). Live fish were a big deal. Many people made gefilte fish out of carp. The gefilte fish must have been outstanding there, as people are said to have flown in from Budapest just for lunch or dinner at Neugröschel’s. Billy Wilder, who was living in Vienna at that time was among them. (Listen to this testimony – in German, sorry.)
Then and now, where there are Jews there’s carp and gefilte fish. Even in Israel, carp are farmed in the desert. In the past, Jews were outstanding pisiculturalists. John Cooper writes that “carp became associated with Jewish culinary art because the breeding of this fish was diffused throughout Turkey, the Balkans, and eastern and central Europe by Jewish traders.”
But cooks in other areas used regional varieties of local fish. In the old days, in landlocked Austria, there were no sea fish like whitefish or salmon—they only became available and affordable later on, and that’s why they are the basis of some of the more contemporary recipes. If the traditional recipes didn’t exclusively call for carp or tench as in eastern Galicia and our rabbi’s gefilte fish recipe, then they must have used pike, trout, or other large freshwater fish.
Just to give you an idea of how popular carp was in those days, the above mentioned Kochbuch der Deutschen Kochschule in Prag (the cookbook Sigmund Freud gave his wife Martha Bernays in 1894), has 10 recipes alone specifically for carp. This was the case even though at that time saltwater fish like salmon were already available in Vienna.
(The Freuds’ cookbook features a recipe for stuffed carp, but that one is definitely not kosher as the filling is made of edible snails from Vienna’s vineyards. The whole stuffed fish is then fried in a pan and basted with anchovy butter.)
The cookbook from Berggasse 19—the famous address in Vienna of Sigmund Freud’s home and office—also stars a recipe for what we call fried gefilte fish under the name Fischscheiben, or “fish slices.” This is at a closer look a very contemporary sugarless gefilte fish mixture, herbed and shaped into breaded and fried patties! This leaves us with two gefilte fish recipes associated with Vienna, one of which is very close to a recipe out of a modern-day cookbook.
Sigmund Freud no doubt ate sweet poached gefilte fish patties at his mother’s traditional home. But if the founder of psychoanalysis ever had gefilte fish served at his own table, it must have been the more assimilated way, in the more central European, Viennese and Praguian style.
A Contemporary Manifesto for Gefilte Fish
Let me finish with a word on contemporary recipes and new approaches that are not afraid of the carp in the bathtub but rather see it, as I do, as the expression of the degree of commitment to the freshness and fine taste that our elders had.
The two rock stars of this modern movement are Liz Alpern and Jeffrey Yoskowitz, authors of The Gefilte Manifesto – New Recipes For Old World Jewish Foods (published in 2016). Their b(r)and, so to speak, is called The Gefilteria which, per the website:
“…is a new kind of food venture launched in 2012 with the mission of reimagining eastern European Jewish cuisine, adapting classic dishes of the eastern European Jewish cuisine, adapting classic dishes to the values and tastes of a new generation.”
Liz Alpern and Jeffrey Yoskowitz reimagine the recipe by leaving out the heavy filling, stretching stuff like matzo meal and loading it with fresh herbs instead. They end up baking a loaf of gefilte fish in the oven which, in fact, corresponds to an ancient method (see John Cooper).
They also have a wonderful old-world version, the afore-mentioned chasseneh fish (wedding fish) where the traditional approach is to stuff the ground-up fish back into its intact whole skin.
All this is very close to the spirit of this website, with only one big difference: Alpern and Yoskowitz focus on Eastern European food. This site offers mainly Jewish Viennese recipes, which is central European, the so-called “elegant” Viennese cuisine. But it is important to insist that Viennese cuisine was shaped by many imports from all over. In the same way, local Jewish cuisine was influenced by immigrants, like the two recipes I present here: One is likely of Sefardic origin. The other one stems from Galicia.
Both recipes have made it to Vienna, to the table of countless Jewish and gentile households.
I have tweaked the recipes ever so slightly to come up with a contemporary version suited to our taste.
Two Recipes for Old Vienna Gefilte Fish: One Fried & One Poached Rabbi Style, Stuffed Back Into Carp Steaks with Kapl, Red Chrain and Jellied Yoich
Poached Sweet Old Vienna Gefilte Fish Steaks & Quenelles
2 tablespoons vegetable oil for frying
1 kaiser roll, challah or white bread 2.65oz (75g)
1 medium carrot 1.76oz (50g) peeled
1 1/2 pounds (700g) skinless, boneless carp filets ground (approx. 4 smallish filets)
1/2 cup of sugar 3.88oz (110g)
2 tablespoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper freshly ground
2 tablespoons matzo meal
To cook the gefilte fish:
1/2 pound (225g) sliced onions
1/4 pound (113g) carrots sliced
6 carp steaks cleaned
3 carp carcasses (heads, tails, fins, and backbones cleaned of any blood)
1/4 cup sugar 1.94oz (55g)
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper freshly ground
- Slightly brown the onion slices in the vegetable oil.
- To soften the bread, soak the roll, challah or white bread in water completely. Then, squeeze out the water as much as possible.
- Grind the fish fillets once more preferably in a grinder together with the bread and the carrot. (In a pinch, use a food processor.) In total, the fish filets should have been ground twice.
- Mix the fish forcemeat with the eggs, sugar, salt, black pepper, and matzo meal.
- Taste the mixture for seasoning: Microwave a teaspoonful of the fish forcemeat mixture on high for thirty seconds. This way you’ll get an idea of how the mixture will taste once cooked.
- Cover and let the mixture rest for 1/2 hour in the refrigerator. Try to form one oblong patty or quenelle. If the mixture is still too loose, add half a tablespoon of matzo meal and let it rest again covered in the refrigerator for 1/2 an hour before trying to form a patty once more.
- Fill the steaks with the fish forcemeat mixture.
- Layer a large pot with the onion slices. On top put the carrot slices. Add the sugar, the salt, and the pepper. Evenly layer with the fish heads, tails, fins, and backbones. Gently lower into the pot, in one layer, the fish steaks.
- Fill the pot with cold water to cover the fish steaks.
- Slowly bring it to a simmer.
- Form fish patties or quenelles and carefully add a layer of fish patties to the pot. You can roll up the remaining fish forcemeat mixture in a Ziploc bag and freeze (see picture above), or continue to delicately layer the pot with patties and quenelles.
- Cautiously fill the pot with hot water right up to the level of the uppermost fish patties (see picture above).
- Simmer for up to 2 hours for a traditional jelly texture, or for 20 to 30 minutes until cooked for a more contemporary look. (Cook to an internal temperature of at least 160°F/71.1°C)
- When the gefilte fish is cooked, remove it from the water and allow it to cool for at least 20 minutes.
- Using a slotted spoon carefully remove the gefilte fish and arrange it on an oval platter. Strain some of the broth over the fish, saving the rest in a bowl.
- Place a carrot round on top of each gefilte fish patty and steak. Optionally put the fish head in the center.
- Chill the gefilte fish thoroughly before serving.
- Serve with sweet beet horseradish relish (see recipe below) and a sprig of parsley.
Fried Old Vienna Gefilte Fish Cakes
Adapted from the recipe called Fischscheiben, “fish slices” in the original German, in the cookbook from the Austro-Hungarian empire Kochbuch der Deutschen Schule in Prag that Sigmund Freud bought for his wife Martha Bernays in 1894:
Yields 12-14 servings
1 pound (500g) skinless, boneless carp or pike filets ground
3 handful of fine herbs (e.g. fresh chives, chervil, parsley, and tarragon)
1 egg lightly beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 eggs lightly beaten
1/2 pound (225g) breadcrumbs or matzo meal
neutral vegetable oil for deep-frying such as canola oil
- Grind the fish meat a second time—in a pinch use a food processor.
- Wash, dry, and chop the fine herbs (e.g. fresh chives, chervil, parsley, and tarragon).
- Thoroughly combine the fish forcemeat, the fine herbs, and the eggs.
- Season with salt and pepper: Microwave a teaspoon of the fish forcemeat mixture on high for thirty seconds to get an idea of how the mixture will taste once cooked.
- Shape fish cakes. Form round flat slices of 3 inches (7.5cm).
- Breading the fish cakes: Place 2 separate plates side-by-side: One with the lightly beaten eggs and one with the breadcrumbs.
Take one cake and dip it into the egg and then into the breadcrumbs. Delicately shake off the excess breadcrumbs. Fry immediately.
- To fry the fish patties: This is most easily done in a deep-fryer, but you can use a deep frying pan (skillet).
Using a deep-fryer: Heat the oil to 375°F (190°C). Allow approximately 6-7 minutes cooking time, or until a rich golden brown.
Using a frying pan: Heat oil 1 inch (2.5cm) deep until it is hot enough to brown a 1-inch (2.5cm) cube of bread in 30 seconds: Gently lower in enough patties to fill the pan without overcrowding it. Cook steadily over moderate heat, turning every 2 or 3 minutes, until the patties are even brown—7 or 8 minutes in all.
- Drain the fish cakes by standing them up on their sides on a dish lined with crumpled kitchen or tissue paper.
- Serve hot or at room temperature with sweet beet horseradish relish (see recipe below) and a sprig of parsley.
Red Chrain (Sweet Beet Horseradish Relish)
1/2 pound (225g) raw horseradish coarsely chopped
12oz (340g) raw or cooked beets
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt (iodine-free)
- If using raw beets, cut the leafy tops off and scrub them well under cold water (no need to dry them). Wrap them tightly in aluminum foil and place them on a rimmed baking sheet to cook them in a 400°F (200°C) oven for 50 to 60 minutes or until fork-tender. Let cool before peeling them.
- Dissolve the confectioners’ sugar and the salt in the lemon juice by stirring it together.
- Mix the horseradish and the beets together in a food processor.
- While the food processor is running, slowly add the vinegar-lemon juice-sugar-salt mix. The horseradish-beet mixture should get the consistency of a jam and the horseradish and the beets should be ground as finely as possible in your food processor.
- Transfer the relish to an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 24 hours before serving with poached or fried gefilte fish (see my recipes above). Sweet red horseradish relish will keep a couple of weeks in the refrigerator.
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- “Gefilte Fish Gets a Bad Rap, but It Has a Rich History.” Zingerman’s Deli, September 6, 2018.
- These were served at Michel Gottdiener’s Paris kosher restaurant and featured in his cookbook La grande cuisine française casher (“The Great French Kosher Cuisine,” 2000)—wherein no classic gefilte fish is to be found.
- The recipe can be found in number of cookbooks, and in reference books by Viennese celebrity restaurant owners Ewald and Mario Plachutta (see Plachutta: Viennese Cuisine, 2014).
- Gehry has famously called the fish a “perfect form”, “Frank Gehry At 83: Still Obsessed With Fish.” Fast Company, (January 14, 2013)
- Author Salcia Landmann recounts in her cookbook Koschere Köstlichkeiten (1964/1984) the same story with Israeli paratroopers shouting gefilte fish while fighting at night to avoid being shot at by their comrades.