Gefilte Fish 101

It’s been a few months since I wrote about Gefilte Fish and, as I expected, impatient requests for the recipe did not pour into my mailbox. It doesn’t matter, you are getting it anyway; I am not letting good pictures go to waste.

Before you start, get yourself into the fish-making mood by listening to the music like this.

Now that you are ready, collect all of the ingredients. You will need some fish, customary is to use carp and its relatives, pike and walleye. 3/4 lbs of yellow onions for every 2 lbs of fish. Onions should have nice dry brown skins, which give the fish darker color. We laugh at the people who use carrots for that, that’s a huge faux pas. Also needed is a slice of bread, a small amount of oil, salt and pepper and 4-5 eggs, depending on the amount of fish.

On the day when we went fish-shopping, carp was not available. I wanted to drive to another store, but my aunt suggested we buy mackerel. Long time ago fresh mackerel was available in Odessa, where we used to live, and my aunt used it before for the gefilte fish. In retrospect, I suggest you stick with carp – mackerel sold here is previously frozen and even in it’s best days has a strong fishy smell when cooked. However, the process is the same and that’s what important.

Purchase the fish. I recommend not going overboard for the first time. 2 medium carps will suffice. Imagine those are skinny long carps.


Peel the onions, saving the dry brown skins.

Set the skins aside.

Dice the onions.

Lots of onions.

Add 1/2 cup of water to the onions and start cooking them on the high heat until water boils, then turn down the heat to medium.

When the liquid gets low, add some oil. Cooking onions to the right condition may take 3-4 hours; you have to mix them frequently and make sure they are not burning on the bottom. Adjust the heat as you see fit.

There is plenty of time to deal with the fish.

Remove the tail, fins and eyes, they supposedly add a bitter taste, not to mention they will be giving you those sad sad looks.

Gut and clean the fish.

Rinse.

In some types of fish there is a small bone or cartilage right where you’d think the fish’s neck would be, if the fish had one. Try to feel it with your fingers and break it off; it’s said to be bitter as well. Now you might ask how do I know it’s bitter. The answer is: my Aunt and my Mom told me it’s bitter and I don’t feel like wasting time and fish to prove them wrong. Just break off the bone, you took stupider things on bare faith.

Keep imagining that this is carp. Now gutted, blind and without the fins.

Now for the fun part. With a sharp knife make a slit inside the fish, maybe about 1/4-1/2” from the bottom. This will make it easier to stuff the fish later on.

Continue to work the knife through the slit, separating the meat from the skin, being careful not to pierce or cut the skin.

Reach inside and feel the spine.

Break the spine…

…and carefully separate the spine with meat and bones, helping yourself with a knife.

Strip the meat from the spine, bones an inside the skin.

This is what you should get.

Do not throw away the spine. Be careful with the skin, try to keep it as undamaged as you can.

By this time the onions are looking pretty brown and greatly reduced in size. Do not be tempted to stop cooking them. They are not even close to being done. Just keep mixing them once in a while.

That’s not done either.

Now that’s what we call “done”.

Drain the fish if there is any liquid.

Prepare the meat grinder, fish, onions, and a soaked in water slice of bread.

Run the fish through the grinder alternating with the onions. Reserve a few tablespoons of cooked onions.

Cut and chop the mixture with a knife until it’s well blended in.

Still awake? Separate the eggs and cut the yolks into the fish mix.

Whip the whites (maybe not so stiff, I went a little overboard here) and cut them into the mix as well.

Like this.

Now add salt and pepper to taste. And I mean my aunt made me taste it and tasted it herself. Food safety is for pussies. (hint: do not swallow raw fish, you just need to know if it’s salty enough).

Now wash the onion skins you saved hours and hours ago. Or so it seems.

Place them together with the spines into an elongated pan you will be using to cook the fish. Did I mentioned it’s a Jewish dish? Everything gets used.

Prepare to stuff.

During the first round try to make sure that there is enough stuffing for all the skins.

If there is anything left add the mix to make the fish seem full and plump. The stuffing will expand some during the cooking, so don’t overdo it.

Now you can see why we left the edges of the fish stomach untouched.

Place the stuffed fish in the pan over the onion skins. The spines will keep the fish from burning on the bottom.

Top the fish with reserved onions.

Boil enough water to cover (or almost cover the fish). Let it cool a bit or mix in some cold water, making sure that it’s still fairly hot. Add some salt and pepper to the water. Mix it in the same pot where you cooked the onions, to get all the flavor. Carefully pour in the pan, not on the fish.

Place on high heat until it boils, then reduce the heat.

Cook uncovered until the liquid almost evaporates and becomes dark brown, about 3 hours. At this point I went home and did not see the fish finish cooking. According to my aunt, you’ll be able to tell when it’s done.

Serve with horseradish.

Wow! Typing this was almost as tiring as making the fish, considering that my aunt did most of the work. I am pretty sure I lost most readers somewhere after the second photo, but I am glad I can scratch the Gefilte Fish project off my bucket list.

Will I be making Gefilte Fish anytime soon? Who knows, but I am glad the tradition was passed down to me. That’s how it survives anyway.

  • M.V. – you are so funny about this food thing; what’s next, latkes & matzah balls?

    p.s. – “…whps the whites (maybe no so much, I went a little overboard here…)”

    Really? You whi[[ed the whites? have you LOOKED at your hands recently? ’cause your hands appear to be about 90 years ols…

  • That was very interesting, but this is one dish I won’t be attempting. Too much trouble! At least I know what Gefilte Fish is now.
    This is attempt number 2 to break your CAPTCHA code; I actually gave up trying to comment on the Plog because I could never get the code right.

    • Donna, I tried to pick the easiest one. I was getting tons of spam, and now I don’t.

  • Actually I’ve never heard of matzo balls until I got here, so there won’t be anything on that. But there will be a post about potato pancakes, not necessarily latkes but we never called them that anyway

  • Wow. That is the most thorough post I’ve ever seen on the topic. I don’t know that I’ll be whipping up a batch anytime soon, myself, but it was definitely educational.

    Speaking of educational, I would like to request your assistance/presence/guidance on a Russian grocery store adventure after the new year. Ill buy you a can of sprats for your troubles. 🙂

    • Jen, I am off the 1st week of January, just tell me the day and time.

  • I Travel for JOOLS

    Well, we’ll see if my comment even shows up. New computer hardware, etc. and something has gone wrong as my comments are not showing up on any of the blogs I go to.

    Anyhow, this reminds me of Lutefisk (Norwegian dish) in the sense it uses stinky fish. Yuk. Couldn’t handle it.

  • I Travel for JOOLS

    Success !!! Yeah !!

  • Latke Lotte

    That looks seriously delicious. I assume it’s divine, else why would people go to so much trouble? Why does the fish have to be simmered for hours at the end? Seems like it’d overcook? Anyway, next time you make it, I’d be glad to head over and “help” you.

    p.s. Donna, The Pitch Plog is about to change its commenting programming and will be much much easier to use.

  • Katrina@TheGastronomicalMe

    Wow, Mish, I’m seriously impressed – could I borrow your aunty please? This looks devine, and actually really fresh mackarel sounds like a better choice to me than often watery carp (not that I’ve had one recently) I see Gefilte fish in cans sold in Jewish sections of supermarkets here sometimes, but it looks totally different from what you’ve made – more like marinated herring?

    am thinking if there is a shortcut to all the de-boning stage..

    • I’ve been told before that in Israel and other high-gefilte-fish-consumption areas 🙂 some stores will do all the deboning work for you. You might want to inquire at London’s kosher stores.