Haymishe versus store-bought. Sweet versus pepper. How could a food like gefilte fish engender such passion? Well, considering we are talking about Jews and food, how could it not!
One of the most heated debates in Jewish culinary is over how to best prepare gefilte fish: sweet or peppery. According to Michael Steinlauf, who teaches Jewish studies at Gratz College in Philadelphia, how you fancy your fish can actually tell a lot about your heritage. “The gefilte-fish line,” as Steinlauf puts it, “ran though eastern Poland. Jews living to the west – most of Poland, as well as Germany and the rest of western Europe – ate the sweet gefilte fish. Those to the east – Lithuania, Latvia and Russia – ate the peppery treat.” [http://bit.ly/gefilte8]
That gefilte-fish line is nothing new to Allan Evans. I chanced upon a fiery e-mail he sent to a kosher food message board, looking for advice on finding takeout gefilte fish without sugar in New York City. “Having been raised on the subtle tart Litvak style of preparing this dish, the sweetening of this delicacy is an abomination to the palate.” [http://bit.ly/gefilte10]
Evans would be advised to stay away from the next recipe. “My mother-in-law’s Sweet Style Gefilte Fish” calls for 2/3 cup sugar, 1/2 pound ground whitefish, 1/2 pound ground pike, 1 pound of ground perch, and yet another 1/3 cup sugar for the broth. [http://bit.ly/gefilte9]
If you don’t have time for all that, a popular time saver is to spruce up a frozen loaf of fish, which will give you “the look and taste of homemade.” [http://bit.ly/gefilte12] But let’s just say that would be less than appealing to Joe Hartman. A few years ago, the owner of Hartman’s Kosher Meats in Toronto, wrote that each Friday afternoon he sells roughly 30 loaves of gefilte fish, a delicacy lost on the younger generation. “These kids don’t appreciate what goes into making gefilte fish… They don’t put their heart and soul into it like their parents or grandparents did. It takes lots of work, but now you can just walk into any supermarket to buy it.” [http://bit.ly/gefilte13]
Tammy from New York seems to straddle both sides of the homemade versus store-bought debate. Tammy is the winner of the Great Gefilte Fish-off and has generously supplied her late bubbie’s delicious recipe. But Tammy adds, “Making gefilte fish is, quite frankly, a pain in the ass. Even my grandmother would agree. She and I both got lazy in our old age and doctored the store-bought stuff, which turned out surprisingly well and fooled everyone.” [http://bit.ly/gefilte14]
So if you want to cheat, shhh, the folks at Torahbytes will also give you a hand. They advise you to buy “one large jar gefilte fish; good brand, even if not on sale.” The secret is to add your own beets, carrots, onions and seasonings to the fish stew. Bring it all to a boil. Turn down and simmer for 45 minutes. “No one will ever know unless you tell.” [http://bit.ly/gefilte15]
Next time, gefilte fish – trendy at last?