There are wonderful Jewish culinary traditions like golden-fried latkes and the art of dipping crisp apples in honey. And, of course, there’s baby’s first wine buzz after sneaking a glass of Mogen David after Friday night services. But then there’s gefilte, an Ashkenazi recipe that unites ground pike, white fish, matzo meal and fried onions into a jelly-like ball of jarred terribleness. Some of my family and friends claim to “like the stuff,” which I always ask them: how many times do you run to the ethnic food aisle in July to pickup a jar?
The mass-produced stuff from brands like Rokeach and Manischewitz is just nasty, which makes it even cooler that a group of friends have launched Gefilteria, a maker or artisanal gefilte fish using “sushi grade” whitefish and salmon that is both better in quality and more sustainable.
The fish loaves, along with other Old World Jewish products, are unfortunately only available in New York City — at street festivals and through a company website. But they hope to ship throughout the United States in the near future. With the Jewish holidays upon us, I checked in with co-owner Jeffrey Yoskowitz to find out all about the stuff.
To me gefilte fish is grown-up goldfish ground into a jelly-like mush. Correct me if I’m wrong…
Not entirely, but yes. No goldfish. No jelly-like mush. The jelly refers to the fish broth that becomes gelatinous at room temperature if you poach your gefilte. Often this occurs in canned gefilte products. Gefilte is made up of ground fish. Traditionally carp, whitefish and pike. We grind together whitefish, pike and salmon. We bake ours into a loaf—much like pâté or a terrine. No gel. No mush.
So you’re saying I should eat gefilte fish more than once or twice a year?
Yes, you should eat gefilte fish more than once or twice a year. It’s a great dish when done right, balancing savory and sweet. It is the perfect appetizer course. Good gefilte is a time-consuming process, which is why it is relegated to the major Jewish holidays. Now, unfortunately, most Americans only associate gefilte fish with the unsightly balls in a gel broth in a heat-processed jar. Nobody should eat jarred gefilte fish.
Where did you learn to make gefilte fish?
We make a sustainably sourced, artisanal gefilte fish that is prepared and sold fresh. It’s one of a kind. We use beautiful fillets of sushi grade fish. I’ve made gefilte fish with my grandmother, but with my partners, Liz Alpern and Jackie Lilinshtein, I set about developing a new recipe that would bring the best of gefilte-making traditions and marry it to the artisanal food world.
How many orders of gefilte fish will you fill this holiday season?
A sizable amount. We made hundreds of loaves of gefilte. The whitefish shortage kept us from making more, so we sold out.
What other Jewish Old World foods are you selling?
We are purveyors of Old World Jewish foods and we sell lacto-fermented pickled goods, like dill pickles, sauerkraut and kvass — a fermented beet tonic. We also pickle beets and sell both beet and carrot horseradish varieties as a condiment to gefilte (and to be eaten on their own).
Do you have plans to open a storefront? What will that be like?
We’ve talked about a storefront a lot, and it’s an appealing idea for us. We’d love to feature various Eastern European dishes alongside our pickled products and our gefilte. We’d also welcome the opportunity to make specialty foods for holidays, like a honey cake for Rosh Hashanah.
More about the Jewish holidays on Food Republic: