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Sep 23, 2011 11:57 PM

can one argue that lutefisk and gefiltre fish are similarly controversial??

this is going to be a hard one to answer because it needs the input of people familiar with both scandanavian lutefisk and jewish east european gefiltre fish. I have heard it said that with lutefisk, cod treated with lye, you either love it or despise it. no lye with gefiltre but i dont know anyone who is neutral about it (it is a small lump of pike and and or carp that is poached i believe). I once told an aquaintance that gefiltre is a jewish lutefisk.

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  1. Mark,
    Gefilte (no R) fish simply means stuffed fish. Traditionally the fish was ground with added vegetables, eggs and starch (suc as matzo meal) to stretch, stuffed back into the skin and poached. It bears no resemblance to the vile white paste mini loaves suspended in jel and served in glass jars.

    It need not be whitefish and pike (an American adaptaion of Eastern European recipes). It iften was/is made with carp, mullett or salmon.

    Nowadays, it is seldom stuffed back int the fish skin, but loaves are poached.

    That said, I can take or leave the jarred stuff, never eating the jel.

    I make my own loaves of whitefish/pike, poached in water with carrots, celery and onions and fresh lemon slices. I serve it with lemon pepper, not hrseradish.
    I also like it served hot with a tomato vegetable sauce as a main dish.

    My oldest child will not eat gefilte fish. My younger daughter might have a piece if offered, but wouldn't serve gerself a portion from the fridge.

    There is so much bad gefilte fish around, that most peope won't eat it, evven if theyv'e never tried it. That jel is a real turn off.
    But if exposed to good homemade gefilte fish, or the frozen loaves that have no starct filler and are cooked at home (such as Ungar's) people may and do like it.

    When serving guests who are not from my culture, I never announce the dish as gefilte fish, as I'd like the guests to taste with an open mind. Instead, I say I'm serving a dish of a home made fish loaf.

    3 Replies
    1. re: bagelman01

      I am of neither ethnic background (Mexican/Pennsylvania German - go figure), but have had Midwestern Norwegian in-laws. I have had both gefilte fish and lutefisk, and while neither is on my list of epicurian delights, I absolutely despise lutefisk. Perhaps I just had badly prepared examples of both, but the lutefisk was served at an Iowa restaurant that folks bragged about. I'd like to taste really well prepared gefilte fish to erase my not so good memories of my several tastings pf at least that dish.

      1. re: bagelman01

        This is much like low-end canned tuna being a much different experience than high-end canned or fresh. If that's your only exposure then you won't have a favorable opinion of it. The frozen loaves like A&B are very good, with even a salmon option:

        1. re: bagelman01

          Homemade is certainly superior, the problem is finding anyone who makes it any more. Fortunately we have good friends we visit for the Jewish holidays and homemade gf is always on the menu. It is outstanding.

          I guess I'm a fan of jarred gf too -- gel included, despite its apt yiddish name of "yoik" or something like that. But then again, I'm a huge fan of schav too, and that is a very small fan club these days.

          Fun fact I just found on wikipedia: "The U.S. Patent #3,108,882 "Method for Preparing an Edible Fish Product" for this jelly, which allowed mass-market distribution of gefilte fish, was granted on October 29, 1963 to Monroe Nash."

        2. I'm scandinavian, and the few times I had an opportunity to try lutefisk I passed. Likewise, a couple of my college roommates kept jarred gefilte fish in the fridge, immune from my nocturnal forages. Years later I was served home made gefilte fish at a Shabbat dinner, and I had a second serving. A big part of enjoying new foods that at first make one squeamish is to thoroughly erase the mental blackboard and give them a fair chance. There are pleasant surprises out there.

          1. I admit being biased as I love gefilte fish, but I just do not see any comparison. Lutefisk is infamous for SMELLING. The texture as well, but from people who've eaten it, the stink seems to get them first. As for gefilte fish, the texture of the cold fish jelly can be off-putting for some, but it is by no means stinky- if anything the flavor is extremely benign, (That's why it's served with horseradish). The only real comparison I can make besides that they both originated from the sea is that they were both dishes made due to necessity. Gefilte fish was invented to stretch the supply of the fish (thus adding matzo meal). Lutefisk smells because it was preserved to last a really long time. But in terms of flavor, absolutely not.

            9 Replies
            1. re: NicoleFriedman

              It is the smell of lutefisk that is so awful, and what is the major part of flavor, but the aroma of a dish. I think you have to have Scandinavian genes to like lutefisk. Can anyone defend lutefisk? I'd like to hear their comments.

              1. re: DavidA06488

                My husband and I are both Scandinavian-American, and he would stoutly defend lutefisk. Personally, I think it's disgusting, but he swears that, mixed with potatoes and butter, it's delicious. Which would suggest he's really appreciating the taste of potatoes and butter, but he claims that, no, the lutefisk lends an extra (desirable) "something" to the food. His grandfather eats the lutefisk straight, with a little butter. He always goes back for seconds.

                It's funny, actually - many "real" Norwegians think it's adorable we still eat lutefisk. They also see it as a rather vile substance one had to eat when there was nothing else.

                Having read all of the comments above, btw, I may have to give gefilte fish another try. Made well, it sounds like nothing more offensive than fish loaf, which I quite like. I had always assumed it only came in its jellied incarnation, and had decided it must be inedible.

                1. re: emmtilt

                  ^ this. folks in present-day scandanavia don't eat lutefisk for enjoyment any more than contemporary first peoples eat pemmican. it is a cultural relic from when folks had little or nothing else to eat.

                  i say with many smiley face-winks and "lol"s: "norwegians & swedes are sometimes thought to be culturally stubborn." many folks in america were brought up to believe that lutefisk is culturally important and an appropriate dish to eat, for folks of scandinavian ancestry, esp around the holidays. there are many churches, generally lutheran ones, in my neck of the woods that hold annual lutefisk dinners. folks eat and declare it to be delicious, perhaps not because it is, but because if they claim to love it, it helps them to also claim their heritage.

                  i am not really from that ancestry/heritage/culture and think lutefisk is revolting. but i do strive to understand. :)

                  1. re: soupkitten

                    I hear from a lot of people that lutefisk is 'revoulting' but I've made it a couple of times – last year I baked it and this year used Marcus Samuelsson's poached with mustard gravy recipe. Both were very good. I expect that your experience was with overcooked and badly cooked versions. It's the same I've heard from people who say they hate vegetables when all they've had is heated up canned spinach.
                    Note: I'm not Scandahoovian but I live where lutefisk is sold in every supermarket in town.

                2. re: DavidA06488

                  You have had overcooked or badly cooked lutefisk. I made lutefisk last night, poached in milk and served with a 'mustard gravy', actually a rich cream sauce with a touch of mustard. Yes, it's mild, but so are most Scandihoovian foods. The smell I hear people talk about? Not in my case. Last year, I made baked lutefisk, served with melted browned butter. Very good. You have to be careful because you overcook it, it is, as you say, awful.

                  Oh, by the way – I'm not Scandinavian. I'm Jewish. I like gefilte fish, too. But, only with horseradish.

                  1. re: spfox

                    As I said originally, I had the lutefisk at a restaurant that all the family raved about. Maybe it was poorly prepared. I've had really well prepared gefilte fish, and loved it. Proper preparation is important in any cuisine. However I am reluctant to try lutefisk any time soon.

                    1. re: DavidA06488

                      Never be afraid to try anything. I you don't like it, fine. But people who don't try new foods (that would NOT be you) are missing out.

                      At this very moment, I'm writing an article for the Twin Cities Daily Planet on lutefisk. I got an interview with Marcus Samulesson who gave me his recipe, but I don't think he likes it much, either.

                      We have America's only lutefisk and pickled herring plant here in Minneapolis. I wrote about that last year.

                      1. re: spfox

                        BTW, I love pickled herring in all its forms, but especially matjes. A friend and I made a great lunch yesterday with dark rye bread, butter, cheese, sil matjes, mustard pickled herring, sprat fillets, sliced hard boiled eggs, chives, and boiled baby potatoes with butter. Not low cal, but what a meal. I am able to get my supplies at an Ikea nearby. (I feel very lucky about that).

                        1. re: DavidA06488

                          We have a store called Ingerbritzen's, a Scandinavian speciality store with a little grocery and deli section. I wrote an article about their herring (some made in house, some imported) a couple of years ago. If you are ever in Minneapolis, you should stop by this place.

              2. To put it simply, No. Most gefilte fish is mild, even boring or inoffensive, something you cannot say about lutefisk, which is anything but mild and inoffensive.

                1 Reply
                1. re: JMF

                  What are you talking about? Lutefisk is very mild. So is the cream sauce or butter.

                2. I'm casting my vote with lutefisk on this one. I've had it once--at a Norwegian-American Christmas dinner--and it wasn't bad. Like a somewhat bland fish jello. Mixed with butter and potatoes it was good, not great. I preferred the Swedish meatballs.

                  I've also had gefilte fish exactly once. About 30 years ago during my best friend's Bat Mitzvah. I took one bite and gagged, then frantically searched for a discreet spot to dispose of the rest of the offensive lump. I've avoided the stuff ever since. Although now I feel compelled to try a homemade version. It sounds pretty good.

                  I will not be attempting lutefisk at home. My grandmother did every December and my mother's memories of the smell--she refused to ever eat it--still nauseate her.