Wednesday, September 20, 2006

there's a carp in my bathtub!

rosh hashanah is, apart from passover, the time of year when kitchens everywhere — for those who still even make it — are busy preparing large amounts of gefilte fish.

this post is all about fish and memories —

first, some information about a film [short documentary] i think is historically significant, and quite à propos:

photo: boris lehman

Silent as a Fish

From pond to plate, we are shown the journey and destiny of one carp among many. This particular carp will be eaten stuffed during a family meal.

Carp stuffed «in the Polish fashion», also called in yiddish «Gefilte Fish» is a traditional dish eaten by Ashkenazi Jews. It is cooked, sweetened and served as a cold dish at the start of the meal. The head is reserved for the head of the family.

The film, set in Brussels, on the day of the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah), aims to show the culinary preparation together with the accompanying prayers and ritual. It focuses particularly on the sacrifice of the fish and on the issue of mass extermination.

film de / by Boris Lehman
Caméra / Antoine-Marie Meert
Son / Henri Morelle
Montage / Daniel de Valck
Mixage / Antoine Bonfanti, Jacques Clisse
Assistants à la réalisation / Daniel Lehman, Gérard Preszow, Nadine Wandel
Générique et banc-titre / Corneille Hannoset, Gaston Roch
Scénario, réalisation et production / Boris Lehman
Co-production Wallonie Image Production (W.I.P.) Liège, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (Z.D.F.) Mainz, Radio-Télévision Belge (R.T.B.F.) Bruxelles, Dovfilm Bruxelles
Avec l'aide de / Le Ministère de la Communauté française de Belgique

16 mm. couleur
Durée: 38 minutes
Année de réalisation: Mai 1987
Version yiddish / allemande / française / anglaise.

GEFILTE FISH (yiddish song)

What do Jews love to eat?
Both at home and abroad which is neither «parve» nor «milchig» nor «fleishig»?

A dish which all Jews love
And which all women strive to make
we love it and we know why
It is a traditional Jewish dish
which we eat on each shabbat eve

Gefilte Fish
Gefilte Fish

It is a delicious dish
I tasted it a while ago at my mother's
It is extraordinary, it is marvellous
It is a blessing for the Jewish people.
When you eat it, it melts in your mouth.
Gefilte Fish, that's yiddish.
Back from the synagogue, we say the «Kiddush»
At home everything's nice and clean We sit at the laid up table
where Gefilte Fish is served.

Gefilte Fish
Gefilte Fish

Hungarians love Gulash with paprika
Poles love pork meat with bread
Russians can't go without red borsht
Germans love rye bread
Romanians malaliga
Georgians shashlik.
But what is there in all those things
That's something no one knows.
Tell me Jew what is good?

Gefilte Fish
Gefilte Fish

Gefilte Fish, that's good.

information borrowed from:

for those of you brave enough, you can see a little extract of the film as the lady dispatches the carp. oy vay iz mir, is all i can say. and yes, that is a tattoo on her forearm from the holocaust. click here and go to bottom of page to "extrait du film".

anyone know the words in yiddish? being written in yiddish, it obviously loses much in its translation [not to mention probably sounds a lot better]. let me know.

and last, but not least, for a good laugh, read this.

* * * * *

memories die hard...

i have a friend who still has vivid memories from her childhood of coming home to find the live carp that her mother bought at the fishmonger's swimming freely in the bathtub before their time was up. the fish would be painstakingly prepared with a hackmesser [jewish equivalent of a mezzaluna knife] in a rounded wooden bowl. no food processors back then — you were the food processor! this is now but just a memory for many people. those days are now long gone and gefilte fish is bought, out of convenience, from the delicatessans and supermarkets.

making your own is not as hard as you think, especially if you buy the fish already ground. the following recipes are pretty much foolproof and easy. try making them, especially with a family member or friend.

as we all know, tastes differ. some versions are more sweet, as in the polish way of making it or more peppery and stuffed back into the fish body as in the lithuanian tradition. also, key to making a good gefilte fish is what is called the "yoch" — that gelatinous broth that forms and is served along with the fish once it is cooled and refrigerated.

i am giving three different ways to prepare it. and also check out here for some pictorial help if you have never made it or seen it made the "usual" way.

gefilte fish, the usual poached way * [source: norene gilletz]

For 1 lb of fish

1 large onion
1 small carrot, scraped
1 lb. fish, minced or fillets
2 eggs
1 tbsp matzo meal
1/4 c. cold water
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp sugar [what?!! MORE!!]

For 1.5 lbs of fish

2 medium onions
1 large carrot, scraped
1.5 lbs fish, minced or fillets
3 eggs
1 1/2 tbsp matzo meal
6 tbsp cold water
1 1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
3/4 tsp sugar [what?!! MORE!!]

for both amounts:

cut onion, carrot and fish into 2 inch chunks [if using fillets]. in a food processor, process the vegetables until finely minced. add fish chunks and process until very smooth. if using minced fish add now and process to incorporate everything. add remaining ingredients and process until blended.

stock [yoch]:

the head, skin & bones from the fish [optional]
4 c cold water [approximately]
2 onions
2 carrots, scraped
1 tsp sugar [MORE!!]
1 tsp salt

put head, skin & bones from fish into a large pot. add enough cold water to barely cover. slice up vegetables and add to pot, then add the seasonings. simmer this for about 1/2 hour covered. bring to a boil before adding the fish balls, then turn down heat to simmer and discard the trimmings from the fish.

to make the balls: moisten your hands with water. shape into small balls that would the size of a small tennis ball and add to SIMMERING liquid, not boiling. carefully place these in the pot and then cover and simmer for 2 hrs. remove the cover during the last half hour to reduce liquid. cool everything in the pot and then refigerate.

this can also be made into loaves and wrapped in parchment [crinckled and run under the tap for a few seconds and wrung dry before stuffing] & then poached in the broth.

garnish with the carrots when serving fish.

N.B. [IMPORTANT]: test the fish for seasoning before putting it in the pot to simmer by taking small amounts and microwaving them for a few seconds to cook through. taste and adjust your seasonings. taste the broth also beforehand and adjust accordingly.

gefilte fish, the newer baked way * [source: norene gilletz, again]

no stock necessary for this one.

Use the 1.5 lb amount and place the mixture into a very well greased ring mold or make two 1 lb batches to equal 2 lbs to use in a 12 c bundt pan.

bake this at 325 F for 1 hour and 15 minutes [or so]. edges will brown a bit and knife inserted in middle will come out clean. cover the top of the pan with tin foil during the last 1/2 hr of cooking or it will dry out.

carefully unmold the fish using a long spatula or knife on an inverted platter and let cool then refrigerate until serving.

another option is to make this into a loaf shape and cook it in a loaf pan.

do not freeze or it will get watery.

gefilte fish, the british fried way * [source: evelyn rose]

will serve: 8 [16-20 patties]

fish mixture:

1-1/2 pounds skinless cod fillets
1/2 pound skinless haddock fillets

2 medium onions, cut into eighths
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vegetable oil [optional]
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
4 to 6 tablespoons matzo meal
Vegetable oil for frying Coating [optional]:
1/2 cup matzo meal
1 tablespoon flour
Salt and ground white pepper to taste

cut the fish into pieces and finely grind it in a food processor [steel blade] or with a food grinder. grind the onions in the same manner and add them to the fish. mix in the eggs, 1 tbsp. oil, salt sugar, and white pepper.

add just enough matzo meal so that the fish mixture can be easily handled and is not sticky. form the fish mixture into plump patties, using about 1/4 to 1/3 cup mixture for each one.

if a coating is desired, put the coating ingredients into a large plastic bag, close the top, and shake until mixed. to coat each patty, put it into the bag, close the bag, and shake gently until lightly coated.

to fry coated or uncoated patties, heat oil that is about 1/4" deep in a large skillet over medium-high heat. fry the patties until they are lightly browned on both sides. drain them on paper towels.

refrigerate the patties until serving time and serve them chilled, with horseradish.

whichever way you choose to make it, don't forget to serve with hrein — horseradish, as strong as you can take it!

as usual, more later....


deccanheffalump said...

This is such an informative post and I love the song! I had always wanted to know what Gefilte Fish was and now I can actually try it out!

burekaboy said...

thanks for posting and welcome.

it has sometimes been said that it is an "acquired" taste [however i don't think so]. it is a much loved dish. do try it sometime.

regards, bb