A tropical gefilte fish recipe.
Gefilte fish is one of those foods that people either love or love to hate. Those who dislike gefilte see it as the hurdle to savor traditionally tastier Passover dishes like matzah ball soup, beef brisket, and kugel. But for those who love it, nothing else compares. Mentioning to friends and family that I’ve recently started experimenting with new variations on traditional fare, I’ve been met with a variety of memes – some even going so far as to speculate gefilte as the predominant cause of the moments. history of political upheaval. Although I’m not so sure about that last part, this fish dish has a rich history and endless preparations.
Primarily introduced as an Ashkenazi Jewish food, eaten at Passover and often on Shabbat,
the word “gefilte” means “stuffed”. The first known recipe for gefilte fish was written about 700 years ago in a non-Jewish German cookbook – “gefuelten hechden” (stuffed pike) and was chopped, poached then stuffed in the skin of the fish it comes from and roasted. It was served as a Catholic dish for Lent. At some point in the Middle Ages, the dish was adopted and adapted by German and Eastern European Jews as “gefilte”. In some parts of Europe, people made it sweet, due to the availability of beets, while in other parts pepper was used for seasoning. Finally, the process
became streamlined and people stopped stuffing it, but continued to poach it and added fillers such as matzo flour and eggs to bind the breads.
When the weather got even tighter around World War II, gefilte fish was marketed and sold in cans and jars, as found in stores today. I am not a fan of these varieties. TBH, unchilled fish floating in questionable liquid scares me. However, pre-made gefilte fish can also be purchased as a large frozen loaf, easily tossed with spices or marinades of your choice. A lot of people swear by this method, and I’d probably do it this way if I could.
But I live on the Gulf Coast of Florida, where frozen gefilte fish is not readily available. The good news is that we have access to plenty of fresh fish! So I make it myself with sustainably caught local fish, which I grind in a food processor. I will use whatever is available on the market. I made this recipe with grouper, snapper and sole. Any white-fleshed fish will do. I cut the boneless fish into small pieces and grind it in my little food processor until smooth and silky. I like to add fresh parsley and raw sweet onion when I grind it, as it reduces the fishy taste, but any herbs and fresh onion will do.
I recently decided to get adventurous and top with mango salsa as it works well with fish. The flavor, acidity and heat make a great substitute for traditional horseradish and give the dish a colorful, tropical and modern twist. The sweetness compensates for the savory because I don’t add sugar to my gefilte fish.
When the mangoes are in season, I make the salsa myself with the juice of a lemon and a lime, a chopped jalapeno, a diced mango, a handful of chopped cilantro, salt and pepper to taste . Out of season or if I’m pressed for time, I use the mango salsa from the store.
Give it a shot. You may find that even the gefilte haters among you are pleasantly surprised by this updated version of a classic.
Tropical Gefilte Fish
- 1 pound ground white fish (carp or pike, traditionally, but I use freshly caught local fish)
- ½ sweet onion (chopped)
- ½ cup fresh parsley (chopped)
- 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 tbsp garlic powder
- 1 cup matzo flour (approx.)
- 2 eggs
- 12 cups (3 liters) of water
- 1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1/2 onion (in quarters)
- 2 bay leaves
- Squeezed lemon per loaf
- 1 tablespoon mango salsa per bun
- Place the fish, onion and parsley in a food processor and grind until smooth.
- Place in a large bowl, add salt, pepper, garlic powder, eggs and matzo flour. Mix well with hands.
- Form 10 to 12 oval-shaped mini loaves.
- Put the water, pepper, salt, onion and bay leaves in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Dip the fish loaves into it and cook, covered, but letting the steam escape, for one hour.
- Place on a plate and refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Serve with a squeeze of lemon juice and garnished with a dollop of mango salsa.