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Is my mother the only one who still makes homemade gefilte fish?

Just wondering. And why do the same fish stores that sell the whitefish, pike and winter carp that goes into fresh gefilte fish put out samples of what they claim is "homemade," but tastes like it is out of a jar, then also have the nerve to charge $4.50 a piece for it?

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  1. I have at least one friend who makes homemade gefilte fisch every year - unfortunately for me, she lives in Paris, and I live in Montréal...

    When we went to shop for the component fish in the Marais, I didn't see any such samples. Suspect Frenchwomen are very touchy about making such things.

    1. I tried it last year for Passover. I ended up using whiting but it was kind of soft and I had to experiment with adding more matzoh meal until I got the right consistency. Really not that hard. Run everything through a meat grinder. Chow had a recipe with pictures that put the bug in me to try it.

      1. I make it, but not very often, because it is easy to do but messes up the whole kitchen pretty well. My two cousins also make it. You really have to make it if you want any that tastes good. imho all the jarred stuff is terrible (even the best is too sweet), and the few times I've been served gf from a caterer has never been very good.

        1. I made gefilte fish last Passover for the first time. To be honest, it wasn't really that difficult. I bought the fish already pre-ground and made the gefilte with a mixture of pike, whitefish and salmon. It was quite delicious but - gah - it really really stunk up the house big-time. If I ever make it again (which I may, since everyone was so awestruck) I will cook it outside on my outdoor burner. Honest - I'm not sensitive about kitchen odours but this was extreme.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Nyleve

            Your mom is one of a dieing breed unfortunately. My wife won't let me try to make it. Few people I know make it any more. We buy the frozen roll and do it that way. My relatives all made it at one time but because of time constraints don't make it any more. I need to add that on Passsover one guest took the frozen roll and defrosted it. Then she added matzo meal and fried it. It was not bad at all.

            1. re: SIMIHOUND

              My family still makes it for Passover.

              1. re: Leonardo

                My ex mother-in-law used to "make" her own. She bought a jar of premade and then added some fish to it and mushed it around and reformed it.

                This is the same woman who told me proudly of the secret ingredient in her chicken soup....wait for it....a package of Lipton Noodle Soup mix.

                This was also the woman who made steaks by the following method. Her brother-in-law was a wholesale butcher and they always had great meat. However....she liberally sprinkled Lawry's Seasoned Salt on both sides, put the steaks in the broiler, turned on the broiler, and cooked until gray and dried out. Perfect every time!!!!

                At least we all have this Chowhound site so that we can carry on at least some of the traditions of our various backgrounds by sharing info, recipes and stories. What a great gift!

          2. My aunt still makes it but none of us have picked up the banner. It's pretty messy and really does smell up the kitchen. Too bad, it's the best I've ever had. Maybe I'll give it a try again.

            1 Reply
            1. re: chaddick

              The way Passover fell this year, the fishmaking was on the weekend, so I went to Mom's and she walked me through doing it. I had notes somewhere on the rough amounts of what she used and how many pieces of fish it yielded, but I can't find it--maybe it is in with my Passover recipes, not with the appetizers. To me, it really is not that hard. Pretty much like making fish meatballs. The fishmonger grinds up all the fish beforehand, which I am sure cuts down on the mess. The only disgusting part to me is dealing with the fish heads and bones when they are going in the pot and when they are being thrown out. Mom's kitchen is at least 20 feet from the front door of her house and you can smell it from 5 feet outside the front door. Can't wait to get the reaction when I try it someday in my apartment. Maybe I will be kind and put a rag under the door. As to the frozen stuff, I cannot believe I am admitting this, but one holiday when Mom was unable to do fish--probably after her heart bypass surgery or her broken back, my sister got a recipe for a layered thing using the frozen gefilte fish and salmon, layered. It was pretty and tasted decent, though a little bit drier than I am used to. Definitely better than any of those jarred abominations. As far as the time it takes to make gefilte fish, no more and probably less than cooking a full brisket. Getting the brisket ready (searing it and prepping the gravy/sauce it cooks in) probably takes almost as long and the brisket takes longer to cook...I just do not want to lose the tradition, so I gotta hunt down my notes and do it a few more times with Mom to build the confidence.

            2. My mother makes it, but not for every holiday, as she used to. I still remember leaving the house while it was cooking when I was a kid because I couldn't stand the smell! I learned from her a number of years ago and make it occasionally, even though I can't stand the stuff - I do love the jelly, though, with horseradish on matzoh or challah (depending on the holiday). My husband loves homemade gefilte fish, so he gets the dubious honor of dealing with the carp heads to make the stock (mega-feh!).

              4 Replies
              1. re: JRL

                So I went to Mom's tonight to help her with making the fish. She had already made the mixture and prepared the pot with the infamous fish heads, plus sliced carrots and onions. She has an awful, overpriced Miele stove that takes forever to heat up (electric--no gas lines in her neighborhood), so she started the pot boiling before I got there. I blithely added the matzoh meal, let it sit for a few minutes, made the fish pieces, plopped them in the pot and during the "taste test" (read excuse to eat a piece of fish), discovered that Mom had forgotten the salt in both the fish and the stock. We usually let the fish cool for a little while in the pot, so we added salt to the stock and hope it soaked into the fish a little. I washed my hands no less than 4 times after I was done, to no avail. I had to shower when I got home. And I got the honor of bagging up the fish heads and put out the trash. I hope no cats get into the trash tonight. By the way, love the expression "mega-feh!"

                How do you get the liquid to gel? Do you use gelatin or is there something else? Is there a particular proportion that you use? Thanks

                1. re: Shayna Madel

                  My grandmother used to make it. Her's was always sweet. She was from Austria.

                  Mom now buys the rolls and cooks it soomehow. I never watch.

                  In our family it seems that everyone has switched to the white horseradish because it doesn't stain.

                  I still love the beet horseradish and wish I had a choice.

                  I thought you got the gel by boiling the fish bones. Hate the stuff.

                  1. re: Shayna Madel

                    So... it seems my mother isn't the only one who has everything pretty much done by the time I get there to help her or to learn how she makes something.
                    I'm not sure what makes the liquid gel - I think it's the carp heads and bones (no carp in the gefilte itself) and only a few cups of water cooked for awhile before adding fish balls. I don't have specific proportions. I have also poached slices of winter carp in the same stock after removing the gefilte fish, but Mom doesn't do it that way and still ends up with jelly.

                    Some things - like carp heads staring at you from the bottom of the pot - are just beyond the scope of a simple "feh!" :-)

                    1. re: Shayna Madel

                      It's boiling all the bones for a long time to extract the gelatin that makes the broth gel , eventually. We actually didn't usually bother with the whole business of making the broth gel when I was a kid. instead, the fish was first boiled and then wrapped in pieces of skin and fried until nice and crispy.
                      Nowadays I usually only make it in small batches, though (I know, it seems perverse to go through the effort for just a little, but I find that the amount of mess and fish smell really scales down a lot when you're not making enough for an army!) So, I usually don't end up buying whole fish to be able to get so much yardage of nice skin for wrapping...

                  2. Yes, I made a few times, tweaking the family recipe a bit to accomodate West Coast fish, actually even flew fish from Detroit once to make it. But when DH declared it was okay, but not exactly as good a Aunt Faye's, I was all done. I'm just not into that intergenerational competition.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: donali

                      First thing, when you mentioned Aunt Faye, I remembered mine, who no way in heaven could I ever imagine in a kitchen, no less cooking gefilte fish. I had to laugh. As to your DH, I say, make the fish again. And make him in charge of cleaning the pot full of fish heads.

                    2. I make it twice a year, my mom and aunts always made it, and we've never served anything else. Yes it smells up the house but it is something special. I put all the bones and fish heads in cheesecloth, that way I can just pick it up, squeeze it out and just throw away without fishing around for the bones. Also, I learned years ago, that if you put the hot fish in canning jars, fill it up with juice tighten the lid, turn it upside down and let it cool, then refrigerate, it will last up to a few weeks in the fridge. It seals almost like canning.

                      1. I make it every year for Pesach and I used to make it for Rosh Hashanah too. I have tweaked the recipe through the years, using whitefish and now a bit of halibut. Some times for sweetness I grate a carrot. It is much easier to make if you can find a fish monger who will grind the fishe for you.

                        1. although this still stinks the house out - the English way is to fry it. It is absolutely fab - eat cold with horseradish. I just play with quantities.

                          take minced fish, add matzoh meal, sugar, salt and lots of white finely ground pepper and beaten eggs, roll into small balls and deep fry. (unfortunately I do have to taste the raw mix

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: smartie

                            Why make it when you can buy it homemade - United Bakery in Toronto makes the best ever. Made it once and it doesn't compare to UB's. Most everyone in Toronto orders from them.

                          2. I still make my own gefilte fish, its the easiest thing in the world. The only problem I have now is obtaining the fish - used to live in NY where getting the fish was no problem, but here in AZ its a litle difficult to obtain. Thankfully Whole Foods had what I needed after treking to every other supermarket. I've never had a problem with the smell either, but a trick to getting rid of offensive odors in the kitchen is to burn some bread in the toaster. I also make my own horseradish too but I grate it outside for obvious reasons.

                            1. Yes, I do. I got the recipe from my mother-in-law. It uses whiting. She used to live in NJ and would get ling right off the boat, but I use frozen whiting.

                              I cannot remember the recipe by heart, but it's very good. I remove the skin and any bones from the fish. I place fish in chopping bowl and chop it by hand. The recipe includes grated carrot, fried onions, cold water with salt and sugar added, eggs and matzo meal. If you want the actual recipe, let me know and I will send it to you as long as I find it, which I hope to, since I'm supposed to be making it tonight!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: peh

                                My wife makes gefilte fish every passover...we get it pre-ground, a mix of whitefish, pike (walleye) and "winter carp", whatever that is...I prefer silver carp, but the Asian market that sells it doesn't grind fish. This may be heretical, but we do not use the bones...that's what stinks up the house. The fish ends up tasting just as good as without, although there is no gelatin.

                              2. I've made it the last 3 years in a row for Pesach. As a side note my mother never made it.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: scubadoo97

                                  My mom would never have dreamed of making it, but I learned to make it around my senior year in high school and I've been making it ever since. It's a project, but it's worth it!

                                2. *sigh* I would just like to taste it. The jarred stuff is gross. A carved carrot on top does not make it better.

                                  8 Replies
                                  1. re: JudiAU

                                    Give it a try Judi. It's really not so hard. Easy to do in a food pro. Eggs, carrots, onions, matzoh meal are the basic add ins. Grind up and form into balls and simmer in a stock.

                                    1. re: JudiAU

                                      Since my post of 2007, I have learned out to make a baked gefilte fish which - I swear - is absolutely fantastic and unbelievably easy. If you have a source for the ground fish, it takes no time at all to mix up and then bakes in a bundt pan. It's delicious and DOES NOT stink up the house. If you want the recipe I will gladly share. Am not making it this year because a young niece has offered to bring gefilte fish (I suspect it will be the frozen loaf variety but I am not complaining because one never looks a gift-filte in the mouth).

                                        1. re: millygirl

                                          You got it. Enjoy.

                                          Baked Gefilte Fish

                                          1 large onion
                                          3 carrots (two for mixture, one for garnish – you’ll see)
                                          4 eggs
                                          3 lbs. ground fish (I used a mixture of pike, whitefish and salmon)
                                          3 tsp. salt
                                          1 tsp. pepper
                                          1/4 cup granulated sugar
                                          1/2 cup vegetable oil
                                          4 tbsp. matzo meal
                                          3/4 cup ice water

                                          Preheat the oven to 325o F. Grease a large bundt pan.

                                          In a food processor, blend the onion, 2 of the carrots and eggs until nearly smooth. Put fish in large bowl and add blended ingredients. Add salt, pepper, sugar and oil. Mix adding water slowly to mixture. Add matzo meal and mix for 5 minutes.

                                          Cut 1 carrot into thin curls with potato peeler place in the bundt pan, curling them so that they will be on the outside of the loaf when it’s turned out. Gently cover with layer of fish and pat firmly with wet hands. Cover with tin foil and bake for one hour. Uncover and continue baking for 15 to 30 minutes or until done. (I cooked for the full additional 30 minutes because my mixture wasn’t pureed quite enough and the carrot chunks needed to be cooked more. Maybe next time I might actually par-cook the carrots or just puree the mixture more.)

                                          Remove from oven and let cool in pan for 15 minutes. Turn out carefully onto a large cake plate or pie pan (pie pan will catch the juices, which is good), cover with plastic wrap and chill until ready to serve.

                                          Makes 12 to 16 servings.

                                            1. re: Nyleve

                                              Sounds good, but we don't like sweet fish. I wonder if I could leave out the sugar. I have always made from scratch, it's time consuming but not hard.

                                              1. re: paprkutr

                                                I don't like sweet fish either, can't see why this wouldn't work without sugar.

                                                1. re: paprkutr

                                                  Leave out the sugar - I can't see any reason it wouldn't be fine without.

                                        2. fried is amazing, but it stinks the house out. It's odd, we Brits fry our gefilte, nowhere else does!

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: smartie

                                            Thank you so much Nyleve. Sounds great. Now to find the fish somewhere around me. I am gonna do it for sure.

                                            1. re: millygirl

                                              Please let me know how it turns out.

                                              1. re: Nyleve

                                                I ended up following this recipe


                                                I used about a pound and a half of tilapia. It came out excellent except the tilapia is just too devoid of flavor. Would be great for someone who doesn't like fish. Baking gefilte fish will become my standard method from now on.

                                          2. Could not resist sharing this short movie about Gefilte Fish that a colleague from lawschool did with her sister! Enjoy!!


                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: rjlebed

                                              Is that the film that gives equal time to the three generations - grandma with a hand-cranked grinder, mom boiling cinnamon to mask the smell, and daughter opening a jar? I saw it years ago on PBS and haven't been able to find it since. Any idea how I can get my hands on a copy? There's no way to play it or buy it using your link. Thanks in advance for any help you can provide!

                                              1. re: small h

                                                You can definitely leave out the sugar. I never use sugar when I make GF and it tastes just fine.

                                                That recipe sounds good! I'll have to give it a try one of these days...maybe for Shavuos when I have a large group of company to impress.

                                                1. re: small h

                                                  Yes! That is the one. The filmmaker was Karen Silverstein. If you google "The Gefilte Fish and Karen Silverstein" you can find it. When I did that it said it could be watched from this link. Apparently not. I will see if I can find a better link. Hope you can find it cause it really is fun!

                                                  1. re: rjlebed

                                                    I've googled around for this film for ages (off and on, obviously, I'm not insane) and have yet to find anything but an overview & credits. I see that it's been shown in festivals as recently as 2005, so it's still out there. There's nothing about it on PBS.org, nor on the website of my local public radio station. I hate when the interwebs let me down.

                                                    1. re: small h

                                                      I actually think that the JCC in Milwaukee has it in the Coalition for Jewish Learning. The website is http://www.cjlmilwaukee.org/ Perhaps if you call there you can ask them to see where it was produced and who might have access to it.

                                              2. I remember my mother making it from scratch when we were growing up. I think it is because she loved to eat the fish heads, which I thought was gross. Her famous Matzo ball soup was usually Liptons with her Matzo balls, some soft, some hard to please everybody.

                                                1. Does anyone have a recipe for the old school, boiled version or am I better off just using the Second Helpings recipe?

                                                  Shame my bubbie's cookbooks weren't saved after she passed. Lord knows what gems she had in there.

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: biggreenmatt

                                                    the one on epicurious is pretty traditional and good.
                                                    personally, I find the baked kind unsatisfying

                                                    1. re: magiesmom

                                                      What do you find is lacking from the baked loaf?

                                                      1. re: scubadoo97

                                                        They tend to be dry, not as pungently flavourful, and most of all, it's not what I and lots of other people grew up with. No childhood memory of baked gefilte fish is the big one.

                                                        1. re: biggreenmatt

                                                          Being Sephardic it was not a common dish on our table but my grandmother did make it
                                                          on occasion. I find the stuff in the jar pretty low grade and have made my own both the traditional method and the baked. Since I don't have an emmotional attachment, I found the baked, yes a little drier, but as flaverful if not more since the flavors were not watered down. But I do understand you perspective

                                                  2. So nu? Any balabust out there gonna show a bissel of rachmones on a nice yiddishkite boychick and give a recipe for the gefilte fish, already?