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Suddenly making gefilte fish - am I an idiot?

So there I was yesterday, in the Kosher for Passover section of the supermarket, and suddenly I decided that I was going to make gefilte fish for the seders. I have no idea why I am driven to do this mad thing when I already have lots to do...2 seders, 20-ish people at each...insanity. I bought the pre-ground fix mixture - some each of the whitefish mixture and the salmon/whitefish mixture. And now the fun begins. Or, at least, soon.

Does anyone have any words of wisdom for me? I have fish heads for the broth. Favourite recipe? I have 3 lbs. of fish.

Should I tell my husband to call the asylum and just book me in?

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  1. No, you're not certifiable! When I get home this evening I will forward you my Grandma's recipe. I don't make it every year, but sometimes I even make it when it'snot holiday time... because it is sooooooooo good!

    Actually we like it for a light supper in the summertime...

    12 Replies
    1. re: ChefJune

      Would you mind very much posting the recipe for the rest of us? I stumbled into my own gefilte-fish making commitment this year, despite never having made it before. My grandmother's was amazing, but her recipe wasn't written down, and I never managed to ask her about it while she was still with us.

      (I'm asking because you said you'd "forward" the recipe rather than post it, so I'm thinking perhaps you're just sending it to the OP privately?)

      1. re: chloe103

        I will never, ever make gefilte fish again. I couldn't get the fish smell out of the house for the whole 8 days. Considering that I was making everything else for the Seder from scratch it took far too much of my time and made a huge mess to boot. And I don't even like fish. I understand it tasted pretty good, though. Just not good enough to do again.

        I think it's one of those things you have to do at least once, just to say you've done it.

        1. re: rockycat

          Ok - this is good to know. I happen to have an outdoor burner beside my barbecue...this might just be the time to use it. If I do all the preparation inside, I can just simmer the gefiltes outside. Probably will attract every raccoon in the neighbourhood.

          By the way, I was going to make it with fish stock (I bought fish heads). I assume it would be smart to do that part outside also.

          1. re: Nyleve

            If you can do it outside, that certainly will reduce the indoor fish smell :) But I guess I'm a dissenting opinion, that it isn't necessarily prohibitively bad-- just make sure you use a really big pot so you can keep the lid on tight, don't open it a lot. Unless you really hate the smell of fish, you're fine.

            A grandmother trick is to keep a pot of boiling water with cinnamon going at the same time--I don't usually do this (I think I dislike the smell of cinnamon more than I dislike the smell of fish), and I don't even know that it helps that much-- just passing along the traditional wisdom :) (Keeping a couple candles burning is also supposed to help, but I really don't think it does)

            1. re: another_adam

              I live in a big old house with a wood cookstove in the kitchen, so there's lots of air movement and usually a fire going. I don't find odours linger much. But I would prefer to avoid seriously sickening smells a couple of days before our house fills with guests. If the weather is nice, I'll cook the gefilte fish outside.

            2. re: Nyleve

              You know racoons who aren't Jewish won't eat it! . One year I gefilted myself into oblivion and I was so particular about who I let eat it (I feared no one would appreciate it enough) that a lot of it went bad.I will never make it again either but you gotta channel your bubby making gefilte once in your lifetime.

              Gefilte means "stuffed." I lately read an old German cook book that had everything from gefilted turnips to gefilted whole cabbages.

              1. re: missclaudy

                The traditional way it's made in my part of Europe is stuffed back into the pike skin - with the backbone! - and poached like that. It's way way too potchkey for me. But I need to have my head examined as well since I'm making from scratch gefüllte fish for only three people. Meshugene!

                1. re: missclaudy

                  That's very funny. About 1/3 of our Monday seder guests are not Jewish. I have warned them about the gefilte fish already and have given them my full permission not to eat it if they don't want to. More for us - mwah ha ha. On the other hand...I am seriously considering spiking the maror with wasabi. Would that be wrong?

                  1. re: Nyleve

                    Much commercially available wasabi is actually just horseradish with dyes and preservatives, so why not?? In our house, we like it with karashi (Japanese style mustard) :)

                    1. re: Nyleve

                      Sounds delicious. Add to this that they are shutting off our water tomorrow for sewer repairs and the fish has to be made tomorrow. It's just nuts.

                      I've been thinking about putting cilantro in my fish. And has anybody used just egg yolks, not the whites? I have so many left from all the macaroons I made today.

                      1. re: teamkitty

                        I'd say the egg whites are pretty important for keeping the fish light (in fact, I use mainly whites, beaten a bit, with just one yolk)
                        It's the passover dilemma, so many recipes calling for whites. I use the yolks for sauces (for example, a hollandaise sauce for asparagus), or for a "pudding-type" cake. Apparently you can stabilize yolks with sugar or salt and freeze them for later uses, too, but I've never thought to do it when I actually have extra yolks around.

                        Cilantro sounds nice-- it sounds like Chinese or Vietnamese style fish balls, I think it would make me want bean sprouts and pho noodles with them :)

                        1. re: another_adam

                          Thanks, another_adam. Do you have a suggested recipe for a "pudding-type" cake? I usually make nut torte - and it's supposed to rain between now and Pesach, so I'm not optimistic about that turning out.

          2. If your fish is already ground, then no, this is no biggie! (Hacking up all that fish is what makes a huge project and mess)
            Recipes vary as to whether you should beat your egg whites or not--I'd say definitely do it, especially for the salmon mix. (I made salmon gefilte fish last year, and sort of regretted it-- the texture was a bit denser, and the flavor overpowered the more subtle whitefish) Another tip is that you should boil a pot of water and once you've mixed up the ingredients, drop a little spoonful into the water and let it cook so you can taste for seasonings. Nothing worse than cooking up tons of lovingly shaped fish balls only to find out at the seder that they were bland from not enough salt or whatever. Some recipes put sugar, but I'd avoid it (totally a personal matter of taste, though)

            If you're lucky enough to have a fishmonger that can also sell you skins, you can wrap up the cooked balls in a strip of skin and fry it so it's crispy on the edges-- I never bother with this any more, but always dream of my mother's...

            1. Here's the good thing about your undertaking -- if you're anything like me, you'll NEVER find yourself tempted to cook gefilte fish again. The smell in the kitchen will be lingering and unforgettable. But you have to do it once in a lifetime to know not to do it again.

              These days I "doctor" the jarred variety -- I simmer it for about 20 minutes it in the broth from the jar to which I add a little water, sliced carrots, celery and onions. That's homemade enough for me.

              1 Reply
              1. re: CindyJ

                Make sure that you shake the pot periodically while you are cooking the fish, otherwise they can stick together and cause a big mess, especially if you are using salmon. I always cook my gefüllte fish in fish stock, heavy on the parseley.

                1. re: vicarious

                  Thank you - I love that piece. I actually have it as a picture book. The photo of the bubbe on the telephone is priceless.

                2. I enjoyed making my gefilte fish last year. They came out very nice. Big round fluffy balls. I wasn't able to get a mix of fish because I got to the store late in the game, so I think they would have tasted a bit better if there was a mix. I've never used salmon in the mix, although that sounds good to me and I've seen others on here mention using salmon. I will check at home to see if I can find the recipe I used last year.

                  1. I don't think you're crazy. I took over for my family when my mother died. They won't eat store bought. Since you already have ground fish, it's not that bad.

                    I make a fish stock with the heads and bones, throw in some onions and carrots, and season with salt and white pepper. I poach extra onion that I put it the fish mixture. I puree the soften onions with eggs matzo meal salt and white pepper with just a pinch of sugar(very little) we like it peppery. Put it into a bowl with the fish and chop it to get a finer texture. My aunt used make me taste it raw, til my husband got on my case, so now I put a little in the pot for a minute or two to see if the taste is right. Just have the broth at a simmer, and make the fish balls and put in the pot. When making the fish balls keep your hands wet with cold water, so it doesn't stick. Keep the broth at a simmer and shake every now and then. I keep the lid on at an angle, so not completely covered. If the broth is evaporating add more water. Make sure the fish and the broth are seasoned to your taste.

                    When the fish is done, I immediately put the fish and broth in canning jars, tighten the lid and turn them upside down to cool, then I refrigerate. This seals it and the fish lasts a lot longer. It's like canning because the tops seals.

                    If you're in the L.A. area near Farmers Market go to Magees and get some freshly ground horseradish and make your own Chrane.


                    1 Reply
                    1. re: paprkutr

                      My Bubbie tastes the fish raw, then spits it out. I'm not sure if I can get to that point, even though I do eat sushi...

                    2. Try this
                      Have your fish monger grind about 6 lbs of fish. I use white fish, pike, carp and buffle. I don't know what buffle is but the fish store seems to know . Have him put the bones and heads into a separate bag. Start by making a stock with the bones. Add water, onions, carrots, celery, salt, pepper and sugar if you want. For that amount of ground fish use 4 eggs, one large onion, one large carrot, about 1/2 cup ice water, salt, pepper and sugar to taste. When you add the fish balls to the stock let them cook a little before adding more or they might stick together. It is really not hard to make and I never had anyone complaining about the house smelling funny. You can adjust the seasonings however you like, I end up making two pots of fish- one sweet one salty. Oh- I cook them about two hours and I use white pepper. Have fun!
                      I just noticed have much fish you have, so just use my recipe for a guide.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: dmjuli

                        I believe you mean buffalo which I think is a carp

                      2. Nyleve, this is definitely worth doing at least once! And homemade gefillte fish is so good, unlike the stuff in the jars. I think the smell is really the worst of it, and since you have the outdoor burner, no problem.

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: Anne H

                          it is more common in England to deep fry gefilte fish in oil.

                          Delicious but still stinky!

                          1. re: smartie

                            is this done after or instead of boiling? (we always had it boiled and then wrapped in strips of skin and fried-- not necessarily deep-fried, but in enough oil to make the skin nice and crispy. definitely a different creature than a lump of fish out of a jar!)

                            1. re: another_adam

                              Our So African friends always boiled then fried, but I don't know what the Brits do.

                              1. re: teamkitty

                                Re: the smell. As noted above, if cooking indoors, boil water, lemons, cloves and cinnamon and start at least twenty minutes before the fish is on. Keep it gently boiling during the whole time. Opening the windows won't hurt either.

                                Nyleve, you are a real hero to make it, it is truly a dying art. I made it once from scratch with my husband's late bubby (there were no ventilation tricks happening at her place). I brought my food processor over to her and just shook her head! Our family has been relegated to eating the boil from frozen loaves to which I add sliced onions, carrots and a tablespoon of sugar. We would never eat it out of a jar. Our favourite brand is A&B (not the sugar free).

                                Happy Passover to all!

                                1. re: sherry f

                                  I ended up making a nice gefüllte fish with cilantro, green onion, and toasted sesame seeds. I made only about 1lb of fish which yielded 12 good-sized patties. The cooking time - 45 min - was much shorter than other years and the fish are very light.

                              2. re: another_adam

                                no we don't boil it. Make the mix as usual with chopped white fish, finely minced white onion, matzah meal, salt, pepper and sugar to taste. roll into small balls or large pieces and deep fry in new oil. Serve cold with chreyne (not sure how to spell this).

                            2. The gefilte fish is made. Full report (and recipe) will follow - after consumption (tomorrow). One thing for sure, though - it really does stink up the house (ventilation or no ventilation). House is fine this afternoon, though - now it just smells like chicken soup. Which is an ok smell.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Nyleve

                                As a variation on a theme: I have a few guests coming for seder who generally don't care for fish, nonetheless gefilte fish. I made today, using virtually the same recipe as for fish, but using boneless chicken breast. House doesn't smell and some people I've served it to in the past (including some fish eaters) actually prefer it. Made a simple poaching broth with carrots, onion, celery, peppercorns, etc. However, one little trick is to save some of the broth separately made for the matzo ball soup (esp. if you use chicken feet and can create a very gelatinous broth when chilled) and serve that with the chicken-has similar texture to the sauce made from the fish trimmings. If you don't want to do that, I've just removed the chicken when done and reduced down the strained poaching liquid and served that as well. Works well when the fish is not available. Obviously less expensive as well.

                                1. re: markabauman

                                  My mother used to make that - she called it (please forgive spelling - I never saw it written down, only spoken) falche-fisch. I always liked it as a kid - made it with chicken breast (EXACTLY as you described) because she hated the white meat and had to find some kind of use for it. Are you Hungarian, by any chance?

                                  1. re: Nyleve

                                    My mother also makes a "falsche" chopped liver from green beans, etc. She makes the conventional as well; this is just a variation-think I've seen the recipe in a number of Jewish holiday cookbooks. I have a number of indirect Hungarian influences. My grandmother, from whom most of the family culinary traditions derive was Austro-Hungarian. My step-mother of 45 years is pure Hungarian and I've gotten a lot of recipes from her family. My significant other's dad is Hungarian and likewise, gotten a number of food influences there as well.