Long before gefilte fish was jarred in its own jellied aspic and sold on supermarket shelves, it was a labor-intensive dish prepared at home in accordance with Ashkenazi tradition. Co-owners Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern of The Gefilteria in Brooklyn are reclaiming Old World customs with a collection of reimagined recipes in their recently published cookbook, “The Gefilte Manifesto.”
“At its most basic, gefilte is a cold fish appetizer served before Ashkenazi holiday and Sabbath meals, and is made by mixing freshwater fish with eggs, onions, and spices,” Yoskowitz says. “One of the things that drew us to gefilte fish was that it stood as a symbol of resourcefulness—how far a single fish could be stretched to feed an entire family. It had a practical aspect, too. On the Sabbath, Jews are prohibited from separating bones from flesh, so by finely grinding the fish, the proscription was circumvented. We love thinking of ways to restore gefilte to its rightful place on the table, especially for the Passover seder, when gefilte is often front and center. This recipe has a classic base, but we’ve added herbs to give it a taste of spring and a touch of color. There is also no matzo meal or bread crumbs in this recipe, giving it a lighter texture and removing any gluten … [Baking] the fish in a terrine is a quick and contemporary approach that will slice and plate beautifully. Liz and I both prefer the baked terrine.”
HERBED GEFILTE FISH TERRINE
At The Gefilteria, Coregonus clupeaformis, or lake whitefish as it is commonly called, is used to prepare the gefilte fish. If whitefish is not available, Yoskowitz says hake, sole, flounder, whiting, tilapia or halibut also make good substitutes. You can purchase your fish pre-ground, but just be sure to cook it that day since ground fish loses its freshness faster.
Yield: Makes 8 to 10 servings
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
12 oz whitefish fillet, skin removed, flesh coarsely chopped
1¼ tbsps vegetable or grapeseed oil
1 large egg
2 tbsps fresh watercress (or spinach), coarsely chopped
2 tbsps fresh dill, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
⅛ tsp freshly ground white pepper
Horseradish relish, homemade or store-bought
Clean the fish: Check your fillets for bones, making sure to remove any larger ones by hand. Don’t fret about the smaller ones since they will be pulverized in the food processor. You can also purchase your fish pre-ground from a fishmonger (Jewish fishmongers will do this) to ensure all the bones are removed.
Prepare the mixture: Place the onion in the bowl of a large food processor and process until finely ground and mostly liquefied. Then add the fish fillets, the oil, egg, watercress, dill, sugar, salt and white pepper to the food processor and pulse until the mixture turns evenly textured and light-colored throughout. Scoop the fish mixture into a separate bowl and give it an additional stir to ensure that all of the ingredients are evenly incorporated.
Bake the gefilte: Center a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line an 8-inch by 3-inch loaf pan with parchment paper and fill the pan with the fish mixture. Use a spatula to smooth the surface. Transfer the loaf pan to the oven and bake for about 40 to 45 minutes. The terrine will be done when the corners and ends begin to brown. (The loaf will give off some liquid.)
To serve: Cool the gefilte fish terrine to room temperature before removing it from the pan and parchment paper. Slice and serve with Horseradish Relish.