Spring Has Sprung, and With it, Fish Frustration

Before I start off, a poem about Spring:

Spring has sprung.
The grass has ris.
I wonder where the birdies is…

Thank you, and good night!

In all seriousness (and when am I ever serious?), people around these here parts are mighty happy to see some green stuff sprout up and the cold weather move on out. Now, I say “people” and not myself, as I’m a self-professed lover of cold. But, even Ben (the Mainer) got excited when he saw a bud start to form on a shrub outside our apartment, which previously was covered under feet of snow. Hey, whatever flies your skirt up.

You know what else comes with spring? Passover! You know what my favorite holiday of the year is? Passover! Do you know what the only occasion is that I would even remotely consider cleaning the house for? I’ll give you a hint. It starts with a “P” and rhymes with “glass mower.”


This year, I’m feeling ambitious. In my family, there’s a history of ordering the food rather than cooking it, and I’d really like to work towards changing that. The next few weeks will involve lots of recipe testing (Ben already brought out his stretchy pants). The main thing I’d like to try and tackle is the most intimidating, you-have-to-be-crazy-to-make-it-yourself, but-the-store-bought-stuff-tastes-just-fine, Allison,-I-really-don’t-think-this-is-a-good-idea-to-attempt-in-your-small-kitchen, classically Jewish (and scary) dish imaginable: gefilte fish.

My experience and knowledge of said fish can be summed up as follows:

  • It is not really a single fish, but a mish mosh of several different kinds of fish
  • It’s made with incredibly-hard-to-find fish that is not readily available at any fish market I’m familiar with
  • It consists of ground-up whitefish, carp, and/or pike
  • Whitefish, in this case, is not “a fish that is white.” There’s a whole separate breed of fish out there called “whitefish,” which caused a lot of confusion for the poor 16-year-old fish monger in training who I was grilling on the subject
  • According to my dad, he hasn’t seen pike sold anywhere in the last 50 years. (Awesome)
  • Fish meatloaf comes to mind when trying to explain what this is to non-Jews
  • I refused to touch the stuff for the first 15 years of my life. This is one of those “acquired tastes”
  • Gefilte fish should in no way taste anything like fish. Makes complete sense, right?
  • There’s a lot of carcass dismembering that needs to be done, and it’s best to pay the fish monger to take care of this for you, though however good of a job he does, you’ll still have to chop it more thoroughly at home. Some sage advice I recently got on how to handle this process: “Tell the fish guy to grind up the fish filets for you, but to keep the heads and bones separate to take home (you’ll need those). And make sure he removes the eyes!”
  • Gefilte fish can either be sweet or savory, depending on which part of Eastern Europe you hail from
  • I grew up on the sweet stuff, so that’s where my allegiance lies
  • Make it once a year from scratch so you can show your progeny how it’s done, but buy the frozen stuff the rest of the year. It’s not worth the hassle!
  • It should always be served with mushy canned carrots and the strongest horseradish imaginable (for clearing out the sinuses, my mother always likes to add)


So, this year, I’m hoping to invest the majority of my bank account and give it a shot. I know, crazy, right? I make no promises. In fact, I have every expectation of fully crashing and burning in a giant mess of ground fish and failure. But hey, go big or go home, right? And your family will still love you if you spend days and the better part of your paycheck putting together an uber traditional dish that needs to stand up to the highest of expectations, only to have it fall flat if it manages to reach the seder table at all, right?




  1. gary edles says:

    Home-made gefilte fish. A most worthy endeavor! In addition to the ingredient types you mention, my mom also occasionally used “Buffle,” which she claimed was buffalo fish in the secular world. I’m sure it’s among extinct species, like Pike.

    Good luck.

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