Every year for Passover and the High Holidays my grandmother makes her gefilte fish, sometimes making almost 100 pieces at one time! She has to make this much, because not only does everyone eat it at that meal, but then we all want to take some extra home to eat later. Those few family members who don't eat the fish are secretly told to accept their piece at the meal so whoever is sitting next to them can have seconds without anyone else knowing (you have to strategically figure out your seating to do this).
As my generation gets older we realize that we should start to learn the traditions of our family so that they can live on well into our own grandchildren's lives and beyond. A few years ago I let my grandmother know of my intent to learn this skill of gefilte fish making, so we tried to find a good time to get together. About a week before the set date my grandmother had to call me with the bad news - the fish markets only carry carp and pike during Passover and the High Holidays. She tried several fish markets in our area and none sold it regularly during the year. So, we had to put our plans on hold until last Passover when I spent a lovely day being instructed step-by-step by my grandmother.
Of course, the first step is probably the most disgusting - rinsing off the fish heads, skins and bones before putting them in the soup sock. At least the folks at the fish market took the fishes' eyes out before packaging the heads up for us (ick!).
I slightly revised my grandmother's recipe below to include the tricks and tips she passed along - like grinding everything twice so that it is finely ground and any leftover bones are ground properly. When I set out last week to make my own batch in my kitchen without my grandmother standing next to me I remembered almost everything she taught me. But the one thing that I'd change is that when shaping the balls, they shouldn't be actual balls, they should be a little flatter, more like the shape of Reece's Peanut Butter Eggs. This way they stay better on the plate and you can easily put the horseradish and carrot on top without them rolling off. I personally like to have mine with just horseradish, no carrot, but most people do like the carrot. My grandparents (and most people of their generation) like the jelled stock with theirs as well. And please note the official recipe name - my grandmother came up with that herself.
In this day and age when most people serve the jarred fish or at most buy the loaf that you recook with a few seasonings then slice and serve, it's nice to keep this "old country" tradition alive. I think the best compliment I received was from my husband's grandparents. I had sent a few pieces home with them so they could try it and they said that it tastes just like what their mothers used to make. Now if that isn't flattering, I don't know what is!
Marilyn’s Super Duper Gefilte Fish
1 lb white fish
1 lb carp
1 lb pike
1 medium sized onion
1 small carrot
3 eggs, well beaten
2 tsp salt
¼ tsp white pepper
1 tsp sugar
3 tbsp matzo meal
fish heads, skin and bones
½ tsp pepper
Pinch of sugar
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
Have the fish market filet the fish, saving the heads, skins and bones. Put the fish heads, skin and bones in a large pot (use a soup sock for easy removal). Add 2 qts cold water, 1 tsp salt, ½ tsp pepper, and a pinch of sugar. Bring to a boil and boil for at least an hour – while you are preparing the rest of the fish.
Using the fine blade, put the carrot through the grinder and set aside. Do the same with the onion. Put all fish through the grinder (it is best to slice the fish before grinding it into one inch strips to easily go into the grinder). When everything has been ground once, put it all back through the grinder a second time, alternating between handfuls of fish, onion and carrot (always end with the carrot so you know when everything has gone through). It should be very finely ground. Place in a large mixing bowl (you could “catch” it in the bowl from the grinder the second time through). Stir in eggs, 2 tsp salt, ¼ tsp pepper and 1 tsp sugar. Gradually add about 1/3 cup water to make a soft mixture. Stir in matzo meal. Mix thoroughly.
Take the pot of fish heads, etc from the stove and remove the contents, retaining the fish broth and strain all the bones, etc thoroughly (if you used a soup sock, just remove it from the pot). Carefully bring the broth to a boil. With wet hands, make balls out of the fix mixture and place in the boiling broth. Try not to allow the broth to stop boiling as you place the fill balls in it. Add the sliced carrot . There should be enough liquid to cover the fish, if necessary add more boiling water. Cover the pot and bring to a rapid boil. Uncover and reduce heat. Simmer for about 2 ½ hours. Shake the pot every 15 minutes or so so that the fish will coko evenly and not stick. Carefully remove the fish to a serving platter. Strain the stock and place in a glass bowl or glass jar. Arrange carrot slices around the fish. Cool and refrigerate until the stock jells (sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t).
This recipe should make 8 or 9 pieces of fish.
You can double & triple this recipe. I’ve gone as far as 10 times (30lbs of fish) and ended up with 90 pieces of fish. No adjustment is necessary in any o the ingredients – except maybe with the carrots in the fish mixture – you could subtract one with an order of over 18 pounds of fish.
Serve with horseradish.