Belorussian Gefilte Fish Family Recipe

I have a real treat for you today. It was terribly difficult to not post this sooner but … we finally got to make homemade gefilte fish with my mother-in-law and we actually were photographed by the Denver Post during the process! Here is the article that they wrote about our process – On Passover, scratch-made gefilte fish carries on ancient tradition.

Now, I must say, I was a bit intimidated to make gefilte fish from scratch. It seems like such a hard and intensive process but after hearing the recipe twice and then making it twice (once under the tutelage of my very talented mother-in-law and once on our own)… it takes time but it’s not that hard! The most difficult part of this recipe is, definitely, prepping the fish to re-stuff.

Here’s where I have some interesting geographic information for you… it turns out that gefilte fish made in Belarus is generally sliced into sections and the sections are not fully gutted but pockets cut out with the spine and ribs still attached. This does create a situation where there are pin bones that you have to watch out for. My father-in-law is from Belarus and this recipe (the one I am about to share) comes from his mother and her communist Soviet cookbook that she brought with her when they immigrated.

Ukrainian gefilte is slightly different. This is where you pull the meat out of the fish and then re-stuff it into the skin and cook it inside. I hear stories that my mother-in-law’s brother is very talented in this style and we are looking forward to learning with him, how to make it.

So here is the recipe for our Haykin Family Gefilte Fish. Please note, we translated this recipe from a pinch here, a toss there, taste the raw fish to see if it tastes right… into a recipe you can follow. I apologize if there are things that are not clear. Comment here and let me know if you have questions!

All pictures in this piece are courtesy of the magnificent Cyrus McCrimmon of the Denver Post… who is not only a phenomenal photographer but also a lot of fun to have around for a couple of hours on a Tuesday afternoon.


Ingredients:

  • 5 pounds trout (buy the whole fish, for 2.5lbs it is usually two fish)
  • 1 pound cod
  • 2 large onions
  • 2 large beets
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 4 tablespoons matzo meal (or 3 slices of bread – dried and crumbled)
  • 5 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper

Start with large whole fish, trout in our case, which are scaled and cleaned. Cut the fish into 1-2 inch segments. Using a sharp paring knife, cut the fillet meat out of each section, cutting around the ribs and spine. When you’ve removed the meat, you will have two hollowed chambers on each piece of fish. Combine the trout meat with the cod meat and chop finely (you can put it in a food processor). Remove fish and place in a medium sized bowl.

Next, combine ONE whole onion (save the second onion for later) with the oil, eggs, matzo meal, salt, sugar and pepper in the food processor. Process until it becomes a loosely processed paste. Add mix to the fish and let rest while you prepare the vegetables.

Next, slice the beets and remaining onion into half circles. Chop the two carrots into rounds. (Keep these vegetables in these shapes for cooking.)

Take the fish pieces, which are hollowed out, and pack the fish paste mixture into the gaps on both sides and into the bottom. Pack this mixture into every gap in the fish segment. Do this gently and form it carefully. It can easily rip or ‘smush’ out. Set aside the segments as you complete them. It is very easy for the filling to escape before it is cooked, but afterward it will hold together nicely.

Now we are ready to assemble the pot. Start by lining the bottom of a medium to large stockpot with onions. This helps keep the fish from sticking. Now carefully line the bottom of the pot with fish pieces and insert beet slices between each piece of fish, so that nothing touches. If needed add a second level of fish. First, line the top of the fish with a layer of sliced onions, then place the fish in, again separating the segments beet slices. As you go, sprinkle fish segments with carrots slices.

Once the pot is assembled, cover the fish and vegetables with water very carefully (trick: we pour water into the pot on the stove slowly from a bottle or measuring cup, letting it run down the side of the pot) to make sure you do not disturb the fish mixture at all. It will still easily come apart before cooking.

Turn stove top on to a medium/high heat until it just starts to simmer. Watch this very carefully! A rolling boil will, again, make the fish mixture come apart. As soon as there is a slight boil, turn the heat to the lowest setting and let it cook for approximately 3 hours. It must be the lowest possible temperature. The goal is to cook very slowly on low heat. Any amount of boiling or rolling boil will disrupt the very delicate fish mixture.

Once it is cooked, remove the sections and arrange on a platter so it resembles the original fish. Garnish with vegetables from the pot. Traditionally, people put a carrot slice on top. You can use the beets and onions as a bed for the fish. Gefilte is typically eaten cold.

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