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A family tradition | Gefilte fish for Passover
I can't recall a Passover meal when a European Jewish dish called gefilte fish wasn't served. As a child, I wasn't able to appreciate the time, effort and love that went into making these oval or round-shaped fish balls. Gefilte fish is typically served chilled, before the main course and accompanied with a side of horseradish: a scary condiment, particularly for a child, requiring an act of bravery to even taste. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I firmly passed on eating this entire course altogether when I was a little girl.
There are some adults who still refuse to give gefilte fish another chance. Perhaps they got turned off from the store-bought kind out of a jar, or are unable to trust that anything poached for 1½ hours in smelly fish broth could possibly come out tasting good. Others have simply outgrown their aversion.
I have wonderful and cherished memories of watching my father prepare gefilte fish. He would begin by thoroughly chopping the onions and then combining different white fish. Always using his special wooden bowl, he would chop and chop, then chop some more, obviously enjoying the whole creative process. I felt my father’s pleasure in preparing his gefilte fish, which equaled his pleasure in eating it. He always topped off each and every bite with the hottest horseradish that he could find. If it didn’t hit him hard in his sinuses, it wasn't hot enough.
My mother loved to tell her childhood story of being a designated gefilte fish chopper in her family of six children. My grandmother would instruct her to chop for so long she said it felt like her arm was going to fall off! Today’s preparation of gefilte fish is made significantly easier by having the fish market or seafood department at the grocery store do the grinding.
Jewish recipes, like all favorite family recipes, are lovingly passed down from one generation to the next like an expensive heirloom. They are treasured for their tender memories of beloved family members, particularly those who have passed on. Neither one of my grandmothers, each a gifted cook and skilled baker, ever used written recipes. To my knowledge and regret, none of their recipes were recorded. My father intuitively prepared his gefilte fish out of his passion for food, his love of cooking, and from watching his mother prepare the dish every Sabbath and from Jewish holiday to Jewish holiday.
As someone who is now actually fond of gefilte fish, I prefer the kind that includes a good amount of salmon in addition to the white fish — a version not considered the most traditional. Such is the case with the recipe I prepare, graciously given to me by Barbara Coe, who learned it from her mother. It has even converted more than a few who never thought they could actually enjoy eating gefilte fish.
Yields 27 oval-shaped balls. Reduce the recipe in half to serve 10-12 guests.
First prepare a fish broth from scratch or make it easy on yourself by using already prepared boxed fish or vegetable stock, enough to adequately poach by filling the cooking pot up to at least half full. You can also dilute with water and add some kosher-for-Passover white wine.
2½ pounds ground salmon
2½ pounds of ground white fish (usually a combination of sole, halibut, snapper and black cod)
2 small onions, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
The juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon sugar
2½ tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
4 tablespoons matzo meal
½ cup cold water
Blend all the fish well. Add the chopped vegetables and blend well. Beat the eggs, then add the sugar, salt, lemon juice, pepper and matzo meal, mix together well, then add to the fish and vegetable mixture. Add the cold water and mix well.
Form into oval-shaped balls with about ¼ cup of fish mixture and drop carefully into a pot of simmering fish or vegetable stock on medium low. Cover pot and cook for 1½ hours. Remove with a slotted spoon into a storage container and cover with some broth. Cool, then refrigerate. Serve with horseradish on the side.
Baking desserts can be somewhat of a challenge during Passover because the use of wheat rising flour and leavening agents is not allowed. I prepare a scrumptious flourless chocolate torte for Passover that I would be proud to serve anytime. It’s decadently rich and will more than please even the most devout chocolate aficionado. I like to splurge on using high quality chocolate, some of which is made locally.
I found this torte recipe in Gourmet magazine. The only thing that I omitted was the liquor to maintain a pure chocolate taste and to please all the guests, particularly the children. I serve this cake with a side of fresh whipped cream and raspberries, although it’s fabulous just on its own.
Chocolate Almond Flourless Torte
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate (broken into pieces)
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or margarine at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
5 large eggs (separated)
1/3 cup finely ground almonds (done in a food processor or purchased already ground, which can often be found at Trader Joe’s)
2 tablespoons kosher-for-Passover cognac or dark rum (optional)
Confectioners sugar for sifting on top
Whipped cream (optional)
Fresh raspberries (optional)
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees with the rack in the middle. Butter a 9-inch spring-form pan and line the bottom with parchment paper by cutting out a 9-inch round circle.
Melt the chocolate in a double boiler over hot, not boiling, water. You can also place a stainless steel bowl inside the top of a smaller pan, so that the bottom of the bowl sets right above the water. When the chocolate is melted, turn off the heat and allow to cool slowly.
In a large bowl, beat the softened butter with ¼ cup of the sugar until the mixture is fluffy and almost white. Add the egg yolks and beat for 1 minute, then add the ground almonds and optional liquor and beat for 2 minutes more.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until light and foamy, while gradually adding the remaining ¼ sugar. Continue beating the egg whites until they’re stiff and shiny.
Add the cool melted chocolate to the egg yolk mixture and mix with a rubber spatula until well incorporated.
Fold a quarter of the chocolate mixture into the egg whites; then gradually fold the egg whites back into the rest of the chocolate mixture, taking care not to deflate the batter.
Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a tester comes out covered with a thick, moist (not wet), crumbly coating. Allow the cake to cool for 30 minutes in the pan.
Loosen the edges with a knife, place a plate on top and carefully flip the cake out, then remove the parchment paper. You can leave the cake in that position or lightly place another plate on top, then flip it back over. Sift the top with confectioners sugar before serving at room temperature or chilled with a side of whipped cream and fresh raspberries.
Cynthia Shifrin can be contacted at email@example.com.