A Crispy Dish: Gefilte Fish, Fried to Perfection

By Aaron Kagan

Published March 11, 2009, issue of March 20, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Americans are notorious for consuming fried foods, including the recent trend of deep-frying the Thanksgiving turkey. Yet our affair with hot oil has never spilled over into the realm of gefilte fish, much to the chagrin of Jews across the Atlantic.

Across the Pond: Fried gefilte fish is popular among Jews in the U.K.
AARON KAGAN
Across the Pond: Fried gefilte fish is popular among Jews in the U.K.

Fried gefilte fish might sound a bit unsettling to those familiar with the poached variety, but in the United Kingdom, frying is often the preferred preparation of this emblematic dish. In fact, fried gefilte fish is so popular with British Jews that many are shocked to learn not everyone else eats it that way.

“Is it that the fried version may not be usual in the USA?” wrote Eric Wilton, a London-area marketing consultant and gefilte fish aficionado, in an e-mail to the Forward. “It certainly is my favored variety!”

In researching this phenomenon, I spoke with many British Jews who, like Wilton, were passionate about the dish but had no idea that fried gefilte fish was endemic to the U.K. Some were even downright insulting about any gefilte fish that wasn’t cooked in oil. Yonatan Ariel, an educator and former resident of England who now lives in Israel, described boiled gefilte as “looking like cement” and the fried version as “looking like a latke,” making his bias quite apparent.

Rosemary Peters, an Edgware resident who works for the Association of Jewish Refugees in London, was equally blunt in her assessment of the situation. “Jews in the U.S. do not know what they are missing if they only eat the boiled version,” she said.

Peters also noted that fried gefilte fish is the easiest option when it comes to cooking. “It appears to me that the older generation tended to eat more of the boiled variety, perhaps because it required a good fish bone stock and people were happier then to spend time cooking,” she said.

To determine if fried gefilte fish is sold in the United States, I called the one source I thought would be most likely to carry it: Zabar’s. When I asked if the market offered this particular dish, the employee I spoke with answered without hesitation, saying “No, never,” as if I had spoken heresy. It was clear that if I was going to try fried gefilte fish, I would have to make it myself. With Passover just around the corner, there was no time like the present.

Like many American Jews, the only way I’d ever prepared gefilte fish involved twisting the lid off a jar. By making my own from scratch, I realized just how good the dish can be when assembled from fresh ingredients. I also learned that while I like gefilte fish, I love fried gefilte fish.

While the humble gefilte fish is known by some as the hot dog of the fish world, there is actually a fine line between it and the more gastronomically acceptable seafood terrine or pâté: All three are made from roughly the same stuff. Even within the Jewish community, gefilte fish is a love it or hate it food. I suggest, however, that skeptics try gefilte fish that is both homemade and fried. When enrobed in a thin crust, it transcends all stereotypes and is a great example of the marvelous things one can do with fish.

Your local fishmonger should be able to grind the fish for you, and if not, a food processor is a viable alternative. While you’re at it, make some homemade chrain. Everyone I spoke with, whether British or American, seemed to agree on one thing: Gefilte fish must be eaten with this sharp horseradish-and-vinegar condiment. And like the fish it accompanies, chrain is also easy to make at home and much better than the jarred equivalent.

There may be regional differences between British and American Jews, but fried gefilte fish should not be one of them. And it’s certainly no stranger than a deep-fried turkey.

Aaron Kagan is a freelance writer living in the Boston area.


Fried Gefilte Fish

Makes 10-12 patties

1½ pounds ground fish (such as carp, pike, haddock or even salmon)
½ onion
1 egg
1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
½ tablespoon sea salt
2 cups matzo meal
¾ cup olive oil

1) Grate the onion and combine it with the fish, egg, pepper and salt, and 3 tablespoons of the matzo meal.

2) Form the mixture into small balls, each about the size of a lemon. Roll each of these in the remaining matzo meal, creating an even coating.

3) Fill a pan with sufficient oil for frying, about ¼-inch deep. Set over a medium-high flame. When a sprinkling of matzo meal sizzles in the oil, add as many patties as will fit without crowding the pan.

4) Fry for 2 minutes on each side, at which point patties should be crisp and golden brown. Check that the fish is cooked all the way through (the center should be white rather than translucent). If not cooked through, continue cooking on lower heat.

5) Serve hot or cold with chrain (horseradish).


Chrain

1 horseradish root
1 beet
1 tablespoon sea salt
¼ cup white vinegar

1). Peel the horseradish and the beet.

2). Either by hand or in a food processor, grate equal parts horseradish root and beet, combine with the remaining ingredients and let sit for at least 15 minutes.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Why genocide is always wrong, period. And the fact that some are talking about it shows just how much damage the war in Gaza has already done.
  • Construction workers found a 75-year-old deli sign behind a closing Harlem bodega earlier this month. Should it be preserved?
  • "The painful irony in Israel’s current dilemma is that it has been here before." Read J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis of the conflict:
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.