Gefilte fish: Make this easy, high-protein dish for Passover

By Evan Kleiman

Pati Jinich makes Mexican gefilte fish in the Veracruz style. She poaches the fish in her Bobe’s recipe of tomato sauce with pimento-stuffed olives, capers, and pepperoncini, which add a piquant zing. Photo by Pati Jinich.

It's time for a reframe of gefilte fish, the traditional Ashkenazi fish patty in the public's consciousness, much like that given to Spam, beloved by countless culinary cultures and often misunderstood. Gefilte fish may have fewer fans, but the horror it inspires is a result of poor marketing, one unfortunate product, and perhaps its sweetness, a favored Polish regional flavor profile that lingers in the Ashkenazi canon. 

But in reality, just as Spam is at its core a meat terrine, gefilte fish is simply a dumpling. It’s a mixture of ground fish, onion and carrot, bound with egg and matzo meal (basically cracker crumbs) and seasoned with optional sugar, salt, and white pepper. The liquid in which it traditionally cooks is a rich fish broth, which thickens and gels when refrigerated just as a good chicken broth will. It’s basically aspic, a savory gelatin that was prized for centuries. Just not this one. I admit to liking the somewhat bland fish patties with a side jolt of horseradish as countless ancestors have. I even admit to always having a jar in the fridge. The patties or dumplings are high-protein, low-fat, and an easy, quick snack. But I only buy one brand, Yehuda, Original Style. They also made a sweet one if you prefer.

As Jews move all over the world, the dish changes to suit tastes based on regional ingredients and flavor profiles. And of course, they don’t even need to be poached in broth or sauce. Cookbook author Chanie Apfelbaum was recently on Good Food talking about her gefilte fish patties, which she makes using a widely available prepared frozen fish mixture (a great shortcut), then spices it up according to her whim. This version adds some fresh ginger and a bit of curry powder and is formed into patties and sautèd. The prepared mix is available at all kosher markets and some grocery stores with robust kosher departments like the Ralph’s on 3rd St. and La Brea. I did some sleuthing via Instacart and found it at several local markets. Some people bake the frozen loaves.

When I make the dish I tend towards poaching my own mixture shaped in either balls or ovals in a tomato-based sauce from either the Moroccan or Mexican Veracruz style. I use Pati Jinich’s recipe that her grandmother developed based on Pescado alla Veracruzana. In the gefilte fish version, the dumplings are poached in a sauce of tomato seasoned with pimento-stuffed olives, capers, and pepperoncini, which add a piquant zing. Her grandmother’s signature addition is a bit of ketchup for that sweet-sour flavor so common in many Jewish recipes. It’s not too late to make one or more of the recipes below to create a different tradition:

-Chanie Apfelbaum’s gefilte fish patties

-Pati Jinich Bobe’s Mexican gefilte two ways

-The Gefilteria’s herbed gefilte fish terrine

-Akasha’s Moroccan gefilte fish with tomato shallot sauce