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Homemade gefilte fish
Gefilte fish slices served with carrot

Gefilte fish (Yiddish: געפֿילטע פֿיש, Hebrew: דגים ממולאיםdagim memula'im, literally "filled fish") are poached fish patties or fish balls made from a mixture of ground deboned fish, mostly carp or pike. They are popular in the Ashkenazi Jewish community.


Preparation and serving

In traditional recipes for gefilte fish, the fish is first deboned, often while still at the market. Next, the fish is ground together with eggs,onions and matzoh meal or challah, and then stuffed into the skin of the deboned fish, giving it the name gefilte (filled or stuffed, compare the German gefüllte). Ground almonds are also included in some variations. The whole stuffed fish skin (which appears as if it is a whole fish but is now boneless) is then poached with carrots and onions. When prepared this way, it is usually served in slices. This form of preparation eliminated the need for picking fish bones at the table and stretched the fish further, so that even poor families could enjoy fish on the Sabbath.

More often nowadays, gefilte fish are made in patties and the stuffing or filling of the skin which gave gefilte fish its name is omitted entirely. The ground fish mixture is shaped into balls or oval patties and poached in a fish stock made from the head and bones of the fish. The poached balls are usually chilled and served with or without the jelled broth, accompanied by a horseradish-vinegar condiment known as chrain (either the red variety, flavored with beets, or plain white chrain, which has a sharper taste).


Gefilte fish may be slightly sweet or savory. Preparation of gefilte fish with sugar or black pepper is considered an indicator of whether a Jewish community was Galitzianer or Litvak. [1] Traditionally, carp, pike, mullet, or whitefish were used to make gefilte fish, but more recently other fish with white flesh such as Nile Perch have been used, and there is a pink variation using salmon.

Commercial gefilte fish is sold in cans and glass jars, and packed in jelly made from fish broth. Sodium is a relatively high 220-290 mg/serving. Low-salt, low-carb, low-cholesterol, sugar-free, and kosher varieties are available. The US Patent #3,108,882 "Method for Preparing an Edible Fish Product" for this jelly, which allowed mass-market distribution of gefilte fish, was granted on October 29, 1963 to Monroe Nash. [2]

There are even frozen and vegetarian variations. [3]


Some people believe that gefilte fish has become a traditional food to avoid 'borer ("selection/choosing"), which is one of the 39 activities prohibited on Shabbat outlined in the Shulchan Aruch. Borer would occur when one picks the bones out of the fish, taking "the chaff from within the food." [4][5][6][7]

Others say that fish are not subject to "ayin hara" ("evil eye"), so that a dish prepared from several fish varieties brings good luck. In the Bible, fish are symbolic of fertility: In Genesis 48:15-16 Jacob blesses Joseph and his sons by saying in part, "May He bless the lads, and let them carry my name, along with the names of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac. May they increase in the land like fish.' " [8]

Fish is parve, neither milk nor meat, and may be eaten at both meat and dairy meals (although Orthodox Jews avoid eating fish and meat on the same plate).

See also


  1. ^ This is no fish tale: Gefilte tastes tell story of ancestry
  3. ^ Gefilte "Fish," Vegetarian
  4. ^ Marks, Gil. Something's fishy in the State of Israel, Orthodox Union website. Accessed March 30, 2006.
  5. ^ Blech, Rabbi Zushe. The Fortunes of a Fish, website. Accessed March 30, 2006.
  6. ^ Shulman, Adi and Israel, Shoshana. The gefilte story, SomethingJewish website, June 25, 2004. Accessed March 30, 2006
  7. ^ Blech, Rabbi Zushe. Fishing for Answers, Kashrus Magazine, February 2001. Accessed March 30, 2006.
  8. ^ [1]


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