Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Gefilte Fish with Horseradish Cream

At the Passover Seder table growing up, I always had to watch with envious eyes as my brother took supreme pleasure in eating piece (glob?) after piece of gefilte fish. I just had to sit there and watch, I wasn't able to eat it because I was still allergic to pretty much every little seemingly harmless thing in the vast ocean.

Jealousy is really the only explanation I can come up with as to why I always coveted gefilte fish. It was not its visual appeal - that's for sure.

It's really quite an unseemly thing - a grey, pallid mass of congealed fish. It emerges from its jar coated in a gelatinous goo. This jar also contains little carrot discs, as if to assure you that the goo can indeed provide a welcoming home to things that were once real, living things. And don't think that I'm doing gefilte fish a disservice by describing it as such - there's no denying it's instantaneous ick factor.

Once plated gefilte fish is not nearly as off-putting, but if you've seen where it comes from, it's a tougher pill to swallow. The jar, from whence it was fished in all its gooey glory, is a bit hard to get past. Yet, in spite of all of this, likely more than enough to scare off most any right-minded kid, I wanted nothing more than to be able to enjoy gefilte fish - or at least to be able to try it, and hate it, and then make fun of my brother for liking it with the ammunition to back it up.

But no, I just had to sit there - eating my hard-boiled eggs covered in heaping scoops of horseradish, as if it were some sort of substitute, lest my entire face swell up - lest I turn into a living reminder of the plague of boils set forth on the Egyptians. And that's not what Passover's about! It's about relaxing, and celebrating our freedom and drinking until you can't stand up from your oh-so-reclined position (not to mention eating tons and tons of chocolate-covered matzoh), not relishing the ills that were cast upon our adversaries - Jews aren't into that kind of schadenfreude.

As I've discussed before, I've outgrown this fish allergy (though less so the salmon, though I trudge on anyway, trying to will it out of my system), and when I finally had the chance to taste gefilte fish, I actually really liked it. Why, precisely, I couldn't tell you - probably the fact that it's pleasantly fishy, soft and salty, and a perfect vehicle for tongue-numbing quantities of Gold's horseradish. I was finally able to take joy in what my brother had been able to enjoy his entire life, though to his chagrin, there was now another mouth at the table with whom he'd have to share.

When I set out to prepare my first Seder last year, I wanted to go all-out. I tend to go all-out with most things cooking, especially when I'm cooking for others, and I wanted my first Seder to be a smash-hit. I suspect that it was - I think the text messages I get from my blond-haired and blue-eyed friend telling me that she's having a hankering for the brisket I made is a pretty good indicator of success, if I do say so myself.

With a couple of non-Jews in attendance at the Seder, I wanted to make sure that all the dishes were executed in order to maximize their potential, lest my fear that they'd forever be turned off from Jewish food be realized. I saw gefilte fish as the biggest hurdle - as you can imagine it's not really the easiest thing to sell: Fish cakes! Fish dumplings! Fish blobs - from a jar! A jar full of gelatinous goo!

Since I was a third-year law student (read: I had a significant amount of time on my hands), I figured I'd try my hand at homemade gefilte fish, since steamed fresh fish dumplings seems a bit (though just a bit) of an easier sell than their goo-laden brethren.

And though the gefilte fish stunk up my house something serious, it was an undeniable success. I'm still counting my lucky stars that I had a roommate easy-going and understanding enough to deal with the smell of steaming fish for days (let me tell you - steamed fish smell is the gift that keeps on giving), without so much of a peep of complaint (and a shiksa, no less!!).

The gefilte fish was so much fresher, the texture undeniably better than anything I'd had in the past - there was much more than the hint of fishiness present to make you wise to that fact that what you were eating had once swam in the sea. The horseradish cream lends a sophisticated air to the dish; its flavor, at once spicy and tangy, really heightens the flavors of the fish, serving as a lovely contrast to the smokiness of the salmon and cutting through the richness characteristic of many Passover dishes, in all of their egg-laden glory. The gefilte fish itself had better depth of flavor than the jarred variety, owing to the fresh carrots, onions, scallions and two types of fish, and the fact that it was steamed just the day before, and with no goo of which to speak.

Homemade Gefilte Fish with Horseradish Cream
Adapted from Bon Appétit April 2002

This is an undeniably laborious recipe - albeit one that yields results that kick jarred gefilte fish's ass. However, I didn't have a food processor and decided not to buy one for the gefilte-fish-making occasion, so I found myself chopping...and chopping...and chopping fish until it was in a consistency akin to what would've been realized in the food processor. I'd imagine that this greatly reduces the time commitment of this endeavor. Whether this recipe is worth it is completely up to you, but one thing I think is certain is that this recipe will not leave you reaching for the jar.

And yes, this recipe and the next couple I'll be sharing are from last year, but I never got around to sharing them then, and they became less and less timely as the year progressed, and they dropped by the wayside. But now, with Passover creeping up on us, I again have an opportunity to share them!

Gefilte Fish

3/4 cup peeled carrots, thinly sliced
1/4 cup matzo meal
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped green onions
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 1/2 pounds mild white fish fillets (such as sole or flounder), cut into small pieces
2 cups chopped smoked salmon
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 large cabbage, separated into leaves

Cook carrots in pan of boiling salted water until very tender, about 8 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup cooking water in small bowl. Stir matzoh meal into water; let stand 10 minutes to allow maximum saturation. Place carrots in food processor. Heat olive oil in heavy medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add green onions and stir 1 minute. Add onion mixture to carrots in food processor. Add the matzo meal mixture and blend until mixture is pureed and smooth. Using electric mixer, beat 3 eggs and lemon juice in large bowl until foamy and slightly thickened, about 4 minutes. Stir in mixture from processor to the egg-lemon bowl; do not bother cleaning the processor bowl.

Blend fish fillets, smoked fish, salt, and pepper in same processor bowl until fish is finely chopped. Add remaining egg and blend to coarse paste. Add fish mixture to matzo meal mixture and mix thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate until very cold, about 2 hours.

Line large baking sheet with waxed or parchment paper. Using wet hands, shape 1/4 cup fish mixture for each dumpling into an egg-shaped oval. Place on prepared sheet. Cover with waxed paper and chill while preparing cabbage and steamer.

Set vegetable steamer rack in large pot. Fill pot with enough water to meet, but not cover, the bottom of the rack. Line rack with cabbage leaves. Arrange 8 fish dumplings on leaves; cover with additional cabbage. Bring water to boil. Cover pot and steam dumplings until cooked through and firm to touch, about 25 minutes. Transfer upper cabbage leaves to platter. Top with cooked dumplings. Cover with bottom cabbage leaves. Steam remaining dumplings in additional cabbage leaves in 2 more batches. Cover and refrigerate gefilte fish until cold, at least 6 hours. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.)

Horseradish Cream

This sauce is fantastic - I found myself slicking it on anything and everything I could validate being a good vehicle for the days following my Seder, and I have a feeling you will as well. Even if you don't make the gefilte fish yourself, give the sauce a whirl - it's a great change of pace from the jarred stuff.

2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup prepared white horseradish (or more, depending on your taste - I love horseradish and used, if I recall correctly, a bit more)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup mayonnaise

Mince garlic and place in a bowl. Mix in the lemon juice and horseradish until combined. Gradually add in the mayonnaise, whisking to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste, cover, chill and refrigerate until ready to serve. (Can be made one day ahead. Keep refrigerated.)

Serve horseradish cream alongside gefilte fish, toss aside the jar, and enjoy!


SAF said...

Wish you were bringing some of this to our family's seder - won't be the same without you!

Dorene said...

Had no time to make the Gefilte Fish from scratch, but your horseradish Cream helped the jarred gefilte fish tremendously...and that is only half the story! Actually we ended up dipping most the food on our table in to it....Michelle loved it with the hardboiled eggs and Jonathan kept dipping the celery - we all found it great with the brisket. You Rock - keep up the great blog - love it!