I guess I wasn’t the only one who drove all over town looking for matzo last week before Passover began. Unlike others, I found one box of matzo. However, I could not find, to save my life, kosher-for-passover matzo meal or chrain (grated, bottled horseradish).
I drove to no less than seven stores in search of matzo meal and chrain (I’d bought the matzo a few days earlier on what turns out to be a fortunate lark). I’m talking: Whole Foods, Andronico’s, Afikomen, Star Grocery, two Safeways (note to self: Safeway had the best assortment of Kosher-for-Passover foods, sans matzo, matzo meal and chrain), and (you never know–but they ended up having no Passover items at all) Trader Joe’s. NO matzo meal. NO chrain. And though this was a day before Passover began, I was still surprised: after all, Passover lasts EIGHT days. There’s got to be enough kosher-for-Passover eats for eight days and it was incredible to me that stores ran out before the holiday even began.
But here’s the important question, the reason for my frantic matzo meal and chrain search…
How was I going to make gefilte fish?! Matzo meal is a crucial ingredient (other than ground up whitefish) in gefilte fish, and chrain is a crucial accompaniment. And gefilte fish is, at least in our household, a crucial dish served at the Seder table. Alas, I found an old container of matzo meal from Passover past. Not entirely kosher–and I fretted before I used it, rationalizing that I’d done my best to hunt down matzo meal, to no avail. (I wonder how many other Jewish families had to make compromises this year with the matzo shortage).
I was first acquainted with gefilte fish when I used to buy and devour the kind in jars. I remember my preference used to be Rokeach brand over Manischevitz. But that all changed when I tasted my mother-in-law’s gefilte fish for the first time. She made hers by hand. It was fantastic–the texture of the gefilte fish was firm but not like something out of a rubber mold, the aspic just light and with distinguishable flavors.
I had to make mine from scratch too! I watched her make gefilte fish the next year, helped her form them, put them into the boiling broth, complete with fish heads, and vowed to make my own from that point on.
I thought it would be complicated–it isn’t very complicated at all. Just a tad time consuming with a very delicious outcome. You’ll want to start the gefilte fish the day before the dinner because it requires overnight chilling in the fridge to assure a firm aspic. And remember to put your order in for ground up whitefish far ahead of Passover (and also to buy your matzo meal in advance) so that you have all you need without the stress of hunting down ingredients.
Recipe follows after the jump…
Makes 16 fish balls
For the stock:
2 carrots, sliced (you need at least 16 slices, as these are also to be used as garnish)
1 onion, sliced
1 or 2 fish heads (not oily)
2 teaspoons salt
1-3 teaspoons sugar
¼-½ tsp white pepper or 6 peppercorns
For the fish balls:
1 medium onion
2 teaspoons or more salt
2 teaspoons or more sugar (for Polish gefilte fish, add more sugar)
½ cup medium matzo meal
2 lbs fish fillets skinned and processed (choose 2 or 3 from pike, whitefish, cod, haddock, bream, whiting, and hake). A good fishmonger in a Jewish neighborhood will often have the fish ready and processed for Passover.
Put all the stock ingredients in a saucepan, add about 10 cups of water, enough to cover the fish heads, and bring to a boil. Remove the scum and simmer for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, work on the fish balls…
For the fish balls: put the onion, quartered, in the food processor with the eggs, salt, sugar, and pepper, and blend to a cream. At this point, I like to taste to make sure the seasonings are correct.
Pour into a mixing bowl and stir in the matzo meal.
*If the fish isn’t already processed, you can now cut the fish into pieces and process for about 5 seconds, until finely chopped (do NOT turn into a paste).
Add the fish to the onion and matzo meal and mix very well. Leave covered in the fridge for half an hour.
Wet your hands and shape the mixture into balls the size of a tangerine or into oval patties (the shape of a gefilte fish). Lower them into the fish stock and simmer, covered, on low heat for 30 minutes.
Cool, then lift out the fish balls and fish heads and arrange them in one layer on a deep serving dish.
Ladle a bit of the stock over the fish and reduce the rest by boiling it down, then strain over the fish.
Retrieve the carrot slices and decorate each ball with a slice of carrot on top.
Leave to cool overnight in the fridge, by which time a firm aspic will have formed.
Serve with chrain (horseradish).