Wow. Let me start off by just saying that.
My first homemade gefilte fish experience. I feel like I have so many people to thank. First off, I want to thank every Jewish grandmother for writing nothing down and still inspiring nut jobs like me to make this stuff. (Seriously? Was is so hard for you to grab a pen and jot some measurements down???) I’d like to thank my downstairs neighbor for not commenting on any smells that may or may not have wafted from my top-floor apartment kitchen. I’d like to thank my fish guy (I have a fish guy now!) for getting me hard-to-find fish. I’d like to thank Ben for putting up with this crazy idea. And I’d like to thank my cat, Elliot, for sleeping through the whole ordeal in spite of the fact that he had primo fish heads and bones to crunch on mere feet away from where he slept the entire day. I’d also like to thank…
Wait, don’t play me out yet!! In all seriousness, this was a learning experience above anything else. The end result was not perfect. It still needs a lot of work, and for that reason, I’m not confident enough to provide you with a recipe just yet. It needs more testing, and since this fish ain’t cheap, that’ll have to wait a while. But for the time being, I can at least walk you through the experience and hopefully quell any fears or doubts about making it at home yourself.
Let’s talk about the fish, and I mean the raw stuff that has heads and scales and eyes. I had to special order whitefish and carp ahead of time from a seafood market. At the advice of someone who makes gefilte fish from scratch every year and who uses the same seafood market, she told me to have the fish guy grind the filets for me, as well as providing me with all the heads and bones separately. This was an invaluable piece of advice. And the eyes!! The guy even took out the eyes for me so I wouldn’t have to look at them boiling away. It was touching. Truly.
At the seafood market, after Ben and I paid for our fish, we took our ground-up fish meat and our bucket of fish bones home and tried our best not to look at anything until I was mentally prepared to do what I was about to do. I mean, once the fish was actually in my kitchen, I couldn’t back out anymore. I had to go through with this. So, I did what any first-time gefilte fisher would do….
I put the rest of the groceries away, made some lunch, straightened up the living room, checked Facebook, thought about doing laundry, and literally tried to think of anything else I could do to put off making this stuff. I was scared, nervous, and thinking, “You know what? The store-bought stuff tastes great. Why the heck am I going through with this????”
Out of options, I bit the bullet and waltzed into the kitchen, determined to do what I had set out to do…..but not before convincing Ben to film the whole charade for posterity! That’s right, folks, Ben and I filmed the whole thing. The video is currently being edited. (Is it bad that we may have a longer blooper reel than actual cooking footage?) Once it’s all finished, I’ll post it here for your viewing pleasure. I’m sure you just can’t wait to see me squeal at fish heads and try to eat the smallest amount of raw fish possible to “check for seasoning.” Speaking of which…
That was a problem. A big problem. In fact, that’s where the recipe kind of fell flat. The end result didn’t have enough sugar or salt, and when I was tasting the raw mix (ewwwww!!!!) to try and ascertain the right seasoning ratios, it was just sooooo difficult. First of all, there was the definite yuck factor that was probably blocking some of my better tasting judgment. Like, if I could just get past that, I would have been able to more effectively discern adequate salt and sugar levels.
But more to the point, I honestly couldn’t tell what I was really tasting. When I added the sugar a little at a time, I was beginning to taste the sweetness in the raw product, for sure, but I had no idea how that would translate once it was all cooked. What am I saying? Basically, what I thought was a nice subtle sweetness in the raw product was nowhere near strong enough in the final gefilte fish. It was too diluted and just not sweet enough.
The same thing held true for the salt, although that was much trickier. In truth, when I was tasting the raw fish, I couldn’t tell whether it needed salt. Sure, I had put some salt in there, of course, but I wasn’t tasting the salt and nor did I think it was bland. It was just…..slightly sweet raw fish. Plus, Ben pointed out that there’s natural salt in the fish heads and bones, which we were boiling in the stock. So, some of that salt would have made its way into the gefilte fish as it cooked, and I needed to try and account for that as well. In the end, I just couldn’t get the seasonings right, and that’s the main reason why I’m not posting a recipe to go with this post at this time. But, the method is definitely one that should be tried and preserved. Rather than talking through the method, it’ll be easier to understand once we get the videos up.
In the meantime, have a very happy Passover, for those who are celebrating. My final words of advice to you all…
Fear not the fish! After all, it’s already dead.
P.S. For those who may be worried about the fishy smell, here’s the thing: Fresh fish doesn’t smell, or at least, it shouldn’t. The whole time I was making the gefilte fish, the only strong smell coming from my kitchen was from the onions. If there is a fish smell, it comes after you’ve already cooked it, and if the fish is properly sealed up in containers and placed in the fridge quickly, it’s honestly not a problem. Caramelizing onions is a million times worse. Like, a million. And onions don’t even have scales or eyes with which to contend!!