Traditional Gefilte Fish

Tina Wasserman
Recipe by
Tina Wasserman

When making traditional gefilte fish, if you don’t like the jelled broth, you can skip using the bones and skin; it is the collagen in the bones that jells the liquid when chilled. Follow the directions below using only the water, vegetables, and seasonings to make your poaching broth and you will avoid having to handle all the fish heads and bones!

To avoid lingering odors in your kitchen, make the fish “soup” a day or two before you plan to serve it. Refrigerate the broth until you are ready to make the fish balls.

4 pounds whole fish (a combination of carp, whitefish, pike, snapper, or sea trout) or 2 pounds assorted fish fillets if not making jellied broth
2 carrots, cut into 1-inch lengths on a diagonal
2 stalks of celery cut into 2-inch lengths
1 bay leaf
1⁄4 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 sprig fresh thyme
Pinch of marjoram
1 sprig fresh parsley
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
3 quarts water
2 medium yellow onions
1 carrot
1⁄4 cup fresh parsley, very loosely packed
2 eggs
1⁄3 cup water
1⁄2 cup matzo meal
Salt and pepper to taste
Garlic, ginger, dill, or whatever your Bubbe used to use
  1.  Fillet the fish or have the store do it for you.
  2. Thoroughly rinse out the fish head. Cover all of the bones and head in cold salted water at least 15 minutes. Drain and discard the water.
  3. Place the bones and head on the bottom of an 8- to 10-quart covered pot and cover with carrots, celery, and onion. Add the herbs and the 3 quarts of water to cover. Simmer for 1 to 1 1⁄2 hours until the vegetables are tender and the water has reduced by a third. Strain the liquid, reserve the carrots, and set aside. Discard the bones, etc.
  4. Grind the fish fillets twice in a grinder fitted with a fine blade or process in a food processor until the texture is the consistency of ground hamburger meat. Transfer the fish to a large bowl.
  5. Grind or pulse the onions, carrot, and parsley until the mixture has the consistency of ground nuts. Add to the fish.
  6. Mix in the eggs, water, matzo meal, salt, and pepper, stirring well with a fork until the consistency is light and fluffy.
  7. Cook 1 teaspoon of the fish mixture in salted water for 10 minutes, taste, and then adjust seasonings as necessary. Never taste fresh water fish raw.
  8. Shape about 1⁄3-1⁄2 cup of the fish mixture in your hands to form approximately 3 1⁄2-inch ovals. Gently place in a 10- to12-inch frying pan containing 1 inch of prepared fish stock. Poach the fish balls, covered, for 25 minutes over low heat or until the center of one fish ball appears white and opaque.
  9. Drain on a cloth towel. Cool in the previously made fish broth. Serve with horseradish.
Additional Notes
  •  Whenever you’re grinding fish in a processor, never use more than one pound of fish at a time and always pulse the machine, turning it on and off rapidly. This way you won’t over grind the fish, which makes it tough.
  • Protein foods also get tough when exposed to high temperatures, so when cooking fish balls, keep the fish stock at a simmer.
  • To make jarred gefilte fish taste more like homemade, remove the liquid from the jar and reheat it with a fresh onion and cut-up carrot. When the liquid has cooled down, strain it into the jars with the gefilte fish. Add the carrot slices to the jar. This will make the broth, and subsequently the fish, taste more like homemade.