Gefilte Fish With a Human Face

Putting the Fish Back in a Classic Jewish Dish

Kurt Hoffman

By Nicholas Lemann

Published March 20, 2013, issue of March 22, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Occupying a prominent place in the dustbin of Jewish history is the Pittsburgh Platform of 1885, the founding document of Reform Judaism — the one that abolished the kosher laws, kippot, tallitot and bar mitzvahs, and renounced Zionism.

The reaction against the Pittsburgh Platform was fierce and immediate — the nearly instantaneous founding of Conservative Judaism was a direct result — and by the late 20th century, even the Reform movement had formally abandoned it. But the Pittsburgh Platform was very popular in its day among the German Jews of the Deep South, and it was the controlling doctrine of my own Jewish childhood, at Temple Sinai in New Orleans.

Therefore I have none of the Jewish food memories that I would guess just about all readers of the Forward have. When I left home to go to college in the Northeast, I had no idea lox and bagels existed, let alone tzimmes, kugel, latkes, rugelach or cholent. It became immediately clear to me that the Eastern European Jewish tradition that came to America mainly during the Great Immigration from 1880 to 1920 had triumphed over my own.

This meant that to live any kind of Jewish life, I would have to familiarize myself with a whole range of religious, cultural and political touchstones that were absent from the world where I grew up.

That’s what I have been doing for decades now, step by step. At some point in the process, I began frequently cooking for Jewish occasions — Shabbat dinners, Seders, meals in the sukkah and so on. But I’ve clung to some remnant of my differentness by cooking Sephardic food more often than Ashkenazic (thank you, Claudia Roden).

I have also invented my own improvements on some of the standard Jewish food items that, if you never encountered them until deep into adulthood, don’t have quite the charm that they have if you grew up with them and they invoke the warmth and love of childhood’s golden moments.

High on this list is gefilte fish — the kind that comes in a jar and tastes more of gelatin and salt than of fish, but that most of my friends still unaccountably revere. I don’t. So here’s what I call Gefilte Fish With a Human Face:

Start with a pound of fish fillet. It can be hard to find the classics, carp and pike, in New York fish markets; I like tilefish as a substitute. Cut the fillet into one-inch chunks, put them in a food processor with a raw egg and pulse minimally until the fish takes on a shredded, rather than completely smooth, consistency.


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!
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • 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.