Today I’d like to talk about gefilte fish, a Jewish delicacy usually eaten as an appetizer. Don’t bother looking for details about gefilte as a species—it doesn’t exist. It’s actually a mixture of several fish types—usually carp, pike, whitefish, and mullet. The fish are deboned, and then combined with onions, pepper, salt, vegetable oil, and either bread crumbs or matza. Up until the nineteenth century this combination was then stuffed back into a fish skin, but since then the result is typically processed into small oval or roundish “cakes.” These are usually about three to four inches long, and an inch or two wide. Those packaged for supermarkets are usually canned, or packed in large glass jars with either broth or a whitish jelly. Gefilte is served cold, with horseradish being the more common condiment.
I first had gefilte about ten years ago. A friend of mine who’s half Jewish (Hi B.C.) offered me some, and I took advantage of an opportunity. To be frank, gefilte doesn’t look all that appetizing—it’s a weird pinkish-brown color, and the texture is odd for a fish-based product. However, the taste was very good. For those put off by canned or tinned fish like sardines (smoked herring), gefilte doesn’t have the same fishy odor or oily texture and taste.
This was one of the most successful exotic/disgusting trials, as I’ve eaten it dozens of times since then. As I mentioned, most folks put horseradish on it, but I’ve found any mustard makes for a good pairing. Preparation is simple, too, as you just have to open the container and you’re ready to go. Admittedly, digging out the gefilte patties from the whitish, slimy jelly is a bit nasty, but the taste more than makes up for it. It’s also readily available—even groceries with mediocre selections usually have a jar or two squirreled away somewhere. And, of course, if you’re shopping in an area with a higher Jewish population, it will be even easier to find. In recent years a vegetarian variant has also been developed, although I haven’t been able to sample this. Be forewarned, though—if you do become a fan, you may find yourself drooling while looking at pet goldfish (a species of carp), or while you’re admiring the koi (also a type of carp) in a decorative pond.