Generations of Americans have grown up on jarred gefilte fish--and many of them think that dark gray, flattened slices of fish sitting for months in stale jelly is the nastiest thing ever.

I have to agree. There is no way that jarred gefilte fish can possibly compare to the real thing: freshly-ground fish, homemade stock, boiled with love. Sure, it takes a little bit of work. But the end product is well worth the labor…if just to erase the memory of jarred gefilte fish and replace it with a delicious, fresh alternative.

Whenever purchasing fish, try to get the freshest possible; the body should be firm and the eyes should be bright and clear. For gefilte fish, use white-fleshed fish, half of a fattier type of fish and half firmer. For example, in the United States, Yellow Perch and Pike are both firmer fishes, Whitefish is both fatty and firm, and Carp is a fatty fish. (In other countries like my homeland, Australia, use Perch, Dory, and Flathead.) Ask for the fish to be skinned and filleted and reserve the skin and bones for the very important fish stock. 

Gefilte Fish

Serves 10-15 as an appetizer.

5 ½ lbs fish, filleted and skinned
2 white onions, chopped
2 hard boiled eggs, chopped
2 fresh whole eggs
1 teaspoon cooking salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup seltzer

Fish Stock

Fish bones and skin set aside from the fish
2 white onions coarsely chopped
1 parsnip whole or chopped
1 stick of celery whole or chopped
Salt and white pepper to taste
1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar

Topping

2 whole carrots

Place the fish in a bowl and salt it all over. Leave standing overnight. This will help to remove as much liquid as possible.

The next day, make the stock by placing fish bones and skin in a saucepan. Cover with water, plus 2-3 inches. Add the rest of the fish stock ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer for 1-3 hours--the longer the better. 

(Alternatively, you can place all the fish bones in a cheesecloth, wrap it up, and add it to the vegetables and water. Later, instead of straining the stock, you can just discard the cheesecloth with its contents.)

Combine and mince all gefilte fish ingredients. Mix thoroughly with your hands, or with a mix-master.

When the stock is finished cooking, strain it and discard the bones and skin. Place the strained stock back on the fire. Add the carrots for the topping and bring to a boil.

Take a pinch of the gefilte fish mixture and place into the boiling stock. After a minute or so, the fish mixture will turn opaque. Taste it and adjust seasoning as needed.
 
When ready, begin making balls of fish about 2 inches in diameter. One by one, add to the boiling stock until the pot is filled with one layer of fish balls.

Wait until the fish balls have turned opaque before adding more balls. This will prevent the fish balls from sticking to one another. When you have used up all the mixture and all the fish balls are swimming in the pot, give the pot a little shake to avoid further sticking.

Reduce flame. Simmer with the pot lid partially on for one hour, then taste the fish to see if it's ready. After cooking is finished and the pot has cooled, remove the finished gefilte fish balls one by one. Slice the carrot thinly.

To serve, decorate each ball with a slice of carrot. If you like, you can save the stock, which will gel once cooled, and serve it on the side.

Serve with a beetroot stained horseradish (aka chrein).

Afraid of leftovers? Don't be. Gefilte fish always tastes better the next day.

Post-Script

If you can't imagine preparing such a labor-intensive dish, buy a frozen gefilte fish log and spice it up. For example, you can slice the log into rounds (while it's still mostly frozen), make a mixture of whatever fresh herbs are in season, and dip each slice of gefilte fish in the herbs. Pan fry each piece in a little oil until golden.

Itta Werdiger-Roth

Itta Werdiger-Roth is a personal chef who operates out of New York City. She is a carnivore with a special interest in vegetarian food and enjoys cooking with locally grown, organic, and fresh ingredients. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and deliciously sweet baby girl.