Though some Jewish food mavens may beg to differ, we think few dishes are as associated with the children of Israel as gefilte fish. While not as easy-to-love as blintzes, as versatile as horseradish or as soothing as chicken soup, the ubiquitous balls of ground fish make a fine appetizer for almost any holiday meal.
Gefilte fish, which takes its name from gefüllte, the German word for "stuffed," was traditionally made using finely ground pike or carp mixed with eggs, onion, flour, seasonings and either matzoh meal or challah bread. It was then packed into the skin of a deboned fish, poached with onions and carrots, chilled and sliced. Today gefilte fish is typically formed into patties and served cold. It is often preserved in a jellied fish broth and commonly accompanied by horseradish and a slice of carrot.
While gefilte fish isn't one of the symbolic foods on the Passover Seder Plate, it is a traditional part of the meal in many households. Part of its popularity lies in the cultural significance underlying its preparation: Since one can buy it deboned, it doesn't require work at the table, which means that it can be eaten during the Sabbath when work is forbidden. Another benefit is that fish is parve, so kosher consumers can eat it on the same plate with either meat or dairy foods.
Another reason for the aqueous critter's lingering popularity lies in its economy. Originally developed in Europe's Ashkenazi Jewish community, gefilte fish balls incorporated cereals and fillers to stretch the fish itself. The fish was class-free -- accessible enough for the poorest member of a community, yet glitzy enough for the most wealthy.
Today gefilte fish continues to be a popular and enduring cultural motif. On one end of the spectrum, enterprising chefs like Wolfgang Puck are finding ways to make it more exciting; on the other, a strong market for the traditional ground fish and stuffing survives. Brett Werner, manager of Miami Beach's popular Roasters' n Toasters deli, estimates that his store has sold approximately 200 quarter-pound pieces of the fish for this year's Passover already!
How do you feel about gefilte fish?