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Jewish Recipes --> Jewish and Israeli Foods --> What is a Gefilte Fish?

Gefilte fish is a ground fish recipe, popular with people of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage. Formally, it is a type of quenelle, a delicately flavored patty made of lightly seasoned ground fish or white meat. Similar dishes exist in many cultures in local recipes bland or spicy, served plain or sauced, and cooked in simple broth or as part of an elaborate fish stew.

Recipes: Gefilte Fish

Preparation and serving

In traditional recipes for gefilte fish, the fish is first debunked, often while still at the market. Next, the fish is ground into a fine paste and boiled with carrots and onions. It is then stuffed into a whole fish, giving it the name gefilte (filled or stuffed, compare the German gefüllte). When prepared this way, it may be served in slices of the whole fish with the "gefilte" stuffing in the center.

In much modern preparation, including commercial preparation, the whole fish stuffing step is (somewhat paradoxically) omitted. Common home preparation now is often in cooking parchment, removed after cooking, and the ground fish mixture served in balls or thick patties. They are usually chilled and served with a sweetened horseradish-vinegar sauce known as chrain, of which there are two varieties— "red" chrain and "white" chrain, that is, mixed with or without red beet.


As a dish of homemade origin, gefilte fish preparation varies widely by locality, ethnicity, and from cook to cook, even among commercial varieties. The paste may be so finely ground as to form a dense patty of almost cheese like texture, or may be as coarse as a traditional poultry stuffing.

Gefilte fish can be either sweet (generally among Jews of German, Austro-Hungarian and Polish descent) or seasoned with salt and pepper (common among Jews of Russian and Ukrainian descent). Traditionally, locally cheap fish such as carp, pike, or whitefish were used to make gefilte fish, but more recently other fish with white flesh have been used, and there is even a pink variation using salmon.

Especially in commercial varieties, traditionalists may prefer gefilte fish with a high content of the more richly (and "fishy") flavored carp, an inexpensive and prolific fresh-water fish closely related to the Japanese koi and common goldfish. However, those who prefer a milder taste, even to the point of blandness, look for preparations high in pike and whitefish, with little or no carp.

One impetus for the rise of popularity of gefilte fish was its ease of consumption on the Sabbath. Jewish law dictates that removing bones from fish falls under "separating" (borer), one of the 39 forbidden activities on the Sabbath. Ground and bone-free fish removes this problem. This makes gefilte fish a common starter for one of the three traditional Sabbath meals.