Giving Gefilte Fish a Fair Shake

When it comes to gefilte fish, bagelman01 would like to set the record straight.

First off, it's a “stuffed fish," and "traditionally the fish was ground with added vegetables, eggs and starch (such as matzo meal) ... stuffed back into the skin and poached," bagelman says. "It bears no resemblance to the vile, white-paste mini loaves suspended in gel and served in glass jars. It need not be [made from] whitefish and pike (an American adaptation of Eastern European recipes). It often was/is made with carp, mullet or salmon. Nowadays, it is seldom stuffed back into the fish skin, but loaves are poached."

bagelman does a dreamy homemade version: "I make my own loaves of whitefish/pike, poached in water with carrots, celery and onions, and fresh lemon slices. I serve it with lemon pepper, not horseradish. I also like it served hot with a tomato vegetable sauce as a main dish."

But most people have never had a truly tasty version of the Jewish dish, bagelman laments. “There is so much bad gefilte fish around that most people won't eat it, even if they’ve never tried it. That gel is a real turn-off. But if exposed to good homemade gefilte fish, or the frozen loaves that ... are cooked at home (such as Ungar's), people may and do like it. When serving guests who are not from my culture, I never announce the dish as gefilte fish, as I'd like the guests to taste with an open mind. Instead, I say I'm serving a dish of a homemade fish loaf."

Veggo agrees that people need to set aside their biases and give gefilte fish a fair shot. "A couple of my college roommates kept jarred gefilte fish in the fridge, [which was] immune from my nocturnal forages," says Veggo. "Years later, I was served homemade gefilte fish at a Shabbat dinner, and I had a second serving. A big part of enjoying new foods that at first make one squeamish is to thoroughly erase the mental blackboard and give them a fair chance. There are pleasant surprises out there."

Discuss: can one argue that lutefisk and gefilte fish are similarly controversial??

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