Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Gefilte Fish - Love it or leave it

What can I say about gefilte fish?  You either love it or you hate it.  I belong to the former group, and we are a minority.

I have seen, and tasted, gefilte fish in 2 forms - the bottled-in-brine fishcakes that you buy in the grocery store and the kind that one of Mom's oldest (as in length of friendship) and dearest friends makes.  Until "Auntie Nora" entered our lives, I did not know that gefilte fish came any way other than in a bottle.  We always had a jar or 2 on hand for Pesach, and we ate it with khren (horseradish).  It helped to satisfy my inner 'salty' and I ate it with Mom every holiday. 

As long as (Auntie) Nora and Jessie have been together - which is going on 30 years now - we spent the Yomim Tovim (holidays) together.   Usually Mom took one night and Nora the other.  Jesse and Dad's friendship dates back to law school days, and they share a birthday (1 year apart).  Nora and Mom just hit it off from day one, and their friendship blossomed into one of those deep and powerful sisterhood-type friendships featured in movies - only theirs was real.

So it comes as no surprise that I found many of Nora's recipes written on food-stained pieces of paper in Mom's cookbook.  Nora, like Mom, is a fantastic cook.  Hers is the only chicken soup - other than Mom's, now mine - that Davie will go for seconds and thirds.  Her matzo balls are light and airy, always floating to the top.  In fact, everything she serves is unbelievably delicious.  Yom Tov at Nora's table was always a treat. 

Sadly, as Mom's condition worsened, we had to cut back numbers and keep things really small and quiet in order to quell her anxiety.  Large dinners with our 2 families were one of the casualties during this period.  But to this day, I carry with me the wonderful memories of dinners at Nora and Jesse's table, and now I replicate some of her traditional dishes that I adore. 

One of them is her baked gefilte fish.  It is delicious and out of this world.  It combines 3 types of pre-ground fish, with various seasonings, onions, eggs and veggies and the whole shebang is baked in the oven in a bundt pan.  Lena, Becca and I adore this recipe, and after having Nora's gefilte fish, I could never revert to the jarred stuff - never. 

Every Yom Tov Nora would serve the gefilte fish, and generously wrap up the leftovers for me to take home!  Finally, a few years back, I decided to take the plunge and make it myself.  Armed with the recipe, I went to the market and bought the salmon, sole and whitefish.  One small problem - I did not know you could buy it already ground/minced!  So I spent hours deboning and grinding all this fish - uggh!  Now, don't forget, I have a daughter who reacts to fish.  If she tastes even a morsel she becomes nauseous.  A few bites and she is physically ill.  Thankfully she is not anaphylactic, but I do avoid bombarding her with fish smells - you can only imagine how much she appreciated my new endeavour of home-grinding fish!  Later on, when the wonderful gefilte fish bundt was ready, I recounted my less-than-pleasant preparation experience with Mom, who burst out laughing!  She asked why I didn't just go to the Kosher Sobey's and pick up 3 pounds of pre-ground fish?!  I was shocked - it never occurred to me that it came pre-ground!  She laughed and told me that this should be enough proof that I still need to consult with my mama!  So, don't make the same mistake I did - just to go your local market (Sobey's at Clark & Hilda if you're from my neck of the woods) and ask for minced or ground fish!!

Nora's version of gefilte fish was appetizing enough that Carlo relented on his vow to never try it  and ate some - he says the jellied fish reminds him of an Italian dish Souse (pronounced sootzoo) which will never pass his lips either!  I think he liked it, but just can't get his head around the connection to jellied products, so he does not partake with us.  That's OK - just means that there is even more left for us!

So, from Auntie Nora's table to mine, and now to yours, I hope you and your family will enjoy this outstanding gefilte fish recipe as much as we do. 

Auntie Nora's Great Gefilte Fish


  • 3 lbs minced fish - ¾ lb salmon,   ¾ lb sole, 1½ lb whitefish (remember - buy it minced!!)
  • 2 large onions - diced and sauteed 
  • 4 eggs
  • 6 tbsp matzo meal (or cream of wheat if not for Pesach)
  • 2C ice cold water
  • 5 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 4 carrots - grated
  • parsley

Preheat oven to 350°.  Mix all ingredients together for 20 minutes in mixer.  Grease bundt pan and sprinkle with parsley.  Pour in mixture.  Bake for 2 hours, covering with foil 1 hour into baking so it does not get too brown.  Delicious! 

I typically make it ahead of time and freeze it.

Whatever you're making and whatever you're celebrating, I wish you a wonderful holiday season filled with family, fun, friends and fantastic food. B'Tayavon and Buon appetito!

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