Gefilte Fish

I am now back in Melbourne after an amazing two months in Jordan and Israel followed by a photographic trip to Lalibela in Ethiopia to witness the Orthodox Christmas pilgrimage.Apologies to those of you who follow my blog and have been waiting for a post. It has been far too long since the last one. Here’s hoping that I will be much more conscientious in 2102.

It is almost the end of February and, looking at my calendar, the Jewish holiday of Passover is fast approaching.  This is one of our two most important family festivals and my sister and I prepare all the dishes we enjoyed as children.  One of the highlights is our mother’s gefilte fish that we only prepare twice a year, for Passover and Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year). Preparing the fish and its accompanying jelly takes the best part of a day and we  prepare a large amount so that we can share it with our uncle and aunt and their extended family. Since we live in Melbourne, Australia and are blessed with wonderful fish, the traditional Polish recipe using carp has been adapted to make it, (to our palates, at least) even more delicious and much lighter in colour and more appetising .  The great Gefilte Fish divide is whether the fish should be sweet or not.  If you are not keen on the sweet version, just leave out the sugar!

Each year, I receive requests for our recipe and so, here it is:

GEFILTE FISH
2kg skinless Murray Perch fillets (the fatty nature of this delicious fresh water fish is perfect)
500g flathead fillets (or other white fish)
300g skinless sea perch fillets (to ensure the light colour of the mixture)
1 whole small flathead
heads and bones of the filleted fish
2 litres water
4 tbsp. sugar
5 white onions
5 eggs
2 large carrots
1 large slice egg challah or 1 egg matzah (if making for Passover)
Vegetable oil
Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper

For the Stock
In a large stockpot, place the fish heads and bones, 1 peeled white onion, the whole flathead and 2 tbsp sugar with the water and simmer for about 30 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Strain this stock and set aside to cool, discarding the solids.

For the Fish Patties

Peel and slice the remaining 4 onions and fry them lightly in a little vegetable oil until soft but not brown. If they start to brown, add a little water to the pan.  This will allow the onions to cook without browning until all the water has evaporated. Soak and crumble the challah or matzah.  Mince the softened onions together with the fish fillets and challah or matzah.

Add the eggs, salt, pepper and remaining sugar to the mixture.  Mix very well  (you can mix with an electric mixer using the K beater) then refrigerate for about 1 hour. This will help the mixture stabilise, making it easier to form into firm patties that will hold their shape during cooking.

When you are ready to cook the fish, bring the strained stock to the boil.

Form the fish paste into slightly flattened ovals and drop them into the boiling stock.

Peel and slice the carrots into rounds and add them to the stock.

Cover and simmer gently for 1 hour.

Allow to cool slightly. Remove the fish balls to a serving plate and top each one with a carrot slice. Strain the stock and ladle a little over the fish and carrots to glaze.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.  Cool the stock, pour it into a serving bowl, cover and refrigerate. It will become a firm jelly.

Serve the gefilte fish accompanied with a little of its jelly and “chrain” (kren – red horseradish available commercially).

Purim

Today is the Jewish festival of Purim commemorating the salvation from annihilation of the Jewish community of Persia thanks to their Jewish queen, Esther, around the 4th century BCE.
The above link gives full details of the festival as well as the customs and foods associated with its celebration.
It is a joyous time, especially  for children who dress up  and are allowed to make lots of noise in the synagogue to drown out the name of Haman, the villain of the piece, each time it is mentioned during the reading of the Book of Esther. It is traditional to send gifts of food and drink to one’s family and friends and to make charitable donations to the needy.  It is a festival where drinking to excess is not only permitted, but encouraged!
My sister, cousins and I dressed up for Purim in the mid 1950s

The traditional pastry baked on the occasion of Purim is known in Hebrew as Oznei Haman (Haman’s ears), a triangular pastry filled with poppy seeds or fruit preserves and, these days, other more modern fillings containing chocolate.  My favourite recipe is adapted from Claudia Roden’s Book of Jewish food.

OZNEI HAMAN

For the dough:
250g flour
pinch salt
2 tbsp sugar
2 drops vanilla extract
150g unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
2-3 tsp milk
I egg, lightly beaten with 1 tsp milk to glaze

Poppy seed filling:
150g ground poppy seeds
175ml milk
2 tbsp honey
4 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp sultanas
grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter.

To make the dough, process the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor.  Add the butter, cut into small pieces and process until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs then add the vanilla extract, egg and milk and process until the dough forms a ball.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 mins.
To make the filling, simmer the poppyseed and milk in a small saucepan for 5 minutes or so allowing the milk to be absorbed.  Add the sugar,  honey and sultanas and simmer for a few more minutes.  Off the heat,  stir in the lemon zest and juice, mixing well.  Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 190°C.
Divide the dough into 4 parts.  Roll out one quarter of the dough to a thickness of 3mm (keeping the rest of the dough chilled in the refrigerator).
Using a 7.5cm fluted cutter, cut out rounds.  Place a heaped tsp of filling in the centre of each round and pinch the sides up to form triangular pastries.
Brush with the egg wash and bake of 10-15 minutes until golden.

Allow to cool before CAREFULLY transferring them to a serving dish.  They are quite fragile.

If you have the time, you can make half sized pastries to serve as petits fours… more fiddly to make but very elegant!

Chanukah 2010


This year, Chanukah, the Jewish feast of lights began on the evening of 1st December or the 24th of the Hebrew month of Kislev.  Chanukah means dedication, consecration or inauguration and celebrates the reconsecration of Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the second century BCE.  The Temple was reclaimed after the defeat of the Seleucid Empire by the Maccabees, a Jewish rebel force that retook Judea from the occupying forces of King Antiochus Epiphanes who had pillaged and defiled the temple during a Hellenizing campaign that effectively banned the Jewish religion and its practices.

Upon his defeat, legend has it, there was only sufficient sanctified olive oil found in the temple grounds to fuel the eternal flame for a single day but, miraculously, that small quantity burned for 8 days giving the people time to press and sanctify fresh supplies of oil.
The month of Kislev falls at the height of the olive harvest and therefore,  olive oil and fried foods are enjoyed during the eight day Chanukah celebrations. Traditionally, oil lamps containing 8 wells with wicks, plus an extra one serving as the shamash or lighting assistant were lit and placed at the entrance to houses or their front windows to proclaim the victory  and survival of the Jewish religion.

Each night, the shamash taper is used to light an increasing number of  lights commencing with a single light and ending on the last night with all eight lights burning brightly.  These days, eight branched chanukiot or candle holders are more common and households often have a chanukiah for each member of the family.  Kindergarten and school children are given Chanukah projects to make their own candle holders from found objects such as bottle tops and strips of wood.

Chanukah is a joyous festival with gifts, usually of gold coins (these days gold paper covered chocolate coins are also popular), special songs, games and delicious fried foods.  Donuts and fritters are common to all Jewish communities while potato latkes or pancakes are an Eastern European tradition.

POTATO LATKES FOR CHANUKAH

6  medium frying potatoes (eg russett burbank), peeled and quartered
1 small brown onion, peeled and quartered
2 eggs
3 tbsp plain flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste.
oil for frying

Using the coarse grating blade in your food processor, grate the potatoes and onion and transfer to a bowl.
Beat the eggs and stir into the potato and onion mix, adding the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper.
Set aside to rest for 5 to 10 minutes, spooning off any water that is exuded from the potatoes and that will rise to the top.

Heat 2cm of the oil in a heavy frying pan and drop in spoonfuls of the mixture, frying till golden brown on each side. Drain on a rack.
If making the latkes in advance, they may be reheated in a hot oven.

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