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.
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
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.