Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Gefilte Fish with Chrain (Horseradish and Beetroot Sauce)

So so so happy that my 'meat-free' week has fallen on Passover - because it means that I am going to overdose on gefilte fish. I don't follow the Jewish religion at all - I just love the food.

Gefilte fish originated in eastern Europe at a time when fresh fish was expensive and scarce, and so a recipe needed to be created to stretch a meagre fish ration to breaking point. And here it is - a sort of boiled fish sausage or dumpling, with a light texture and a fresh flavour and adorned with a carrot on its head. It must be eaten with chrain - a fiery relish made from horseradish and beetroot. Totally delish.

In theory, I could eat gefilte fish all year round, but for some reason, it only feels right to eat it at Passover. A lot of the reason is that shop-bought gefilte fish is foul, in a cat-food kind of a way, and my mum only cooks it at Passover - which means that I am confined to an annual seven day gefilte season.

If you ask my mum, Mrs Ribeye Sr., how she makes her gefilte fish ten different times, she'll give you ten different recipes. It's not that she's secretive or mentally challenged (that we know of), it's just that she cooks by touch, never writes anything down and therefore never remembers from one year to the next what the recipe should be (although amazingly her gefilte fish tastes the same every single year). She sort of knows, but would need to actually be in the process of making it before she recalls all of the steps.

So, this year, I decided to have a lengthy chat with her about the recipe and finally got what I was looking for - a definitive list of ingredients... to make enough gefilte fish for a hundred people. So, after cutting down the volumes to allow me to make this dish for, say, only four people, I now finally have the perfect recipe to make the perfect amount of gefilte fish. Phew.

You can use any sort of white fish for this dish. A hundred years ago, the authentic recipe probably called for ornamental carp stolen from the town square pond, or your next-door-neighbours son's pet goldfish, but these days, a mixture of haddock, halibut, plaice or bream would be great. Tailor-make your recipe to suit your budget. Because I like value for money, I use whatever the cheapest white fish on offer is - whole pouting or coley at £3.50 per kilo is perfect.

As befitting a century-old thrifty recipe, this dish comes in really cheap. £1.50 per serving, including the chraine, is all.

Serves 4 (Makes 16 Gefilte Fish)

Gefilte Fish


1 kg whole white mixed fish (including the heads, skin, fins and bones)
2 large carrots, peeled
1 large whole onion, peeled
2 sticks of celery
2 tablespoons of salt
100g medium matzo meal or white breadcrumbs
100g ground almonds
1 large white onion, grated
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon of sugar

Fillet and skin the fish, and pulse blend until you have a coarse paste. Take the fish heads, skin, fins and bones and place into a pan with a 1.5 litres of water and the carrots, celery, whole onion and half of the salt. Boil the stock for three hours on a low simmer and discard the flavouring ingredients, but reserve the carrots for later. In the meantime, mix the minced fish, matzo meal, ground almonds, grated onion, egg, sugar and the other half of the salt in a mixing bowl and refrigerate to allow it to firm up. After an hour, form the mix into 16 fish balls and plop them into the stock. Poach for 30 minutes and remove to a serving dish. Slice the reserved carrots into thick slices and top each gefilte fish with a slice. Chill before serving. Serve the gefilte fish with the reduced stock as a kind of thin gravy, together with the chrain.


Chrain (Horseradish and Beetroot Sauce)


200g jar of pickled beetroots
10cm length of horseradish, peeled
1 tablespoon of caster sugar
Pinch of salt

Blend all of the ingredients until smooth. Refrigerate until needed.

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