I don't think a year went by in summer camp where I didn't hear, "You are supposed to have fish on Friday night" in that nagging tone. As someone who hated the moist and squishy, fishy smelling blandness of gefilte fish except maybe under piles of beets and horseradish, I was nagged by a million Jewish mothers, my fellow bunkmates, about the importance of eating Fish on Shabbat. If you were a fellow nagger and are reading this, don't worry, I've already forgiven you. I guess now that I'm all grown up and a Jewish mother and incessant nagger myself, I finally had the opportunity to figure out why. Anything to avoid doing laundry, right?
“Meat and fish and all delicious things” is just one of the songs sung at a Traditional Orthodox Shabbat table. On Shabbat, the Jewish people are meant to rest, and enjoy the riches the world has to offer; fish being just one of the many suggested items. Fish in it's Hebrew form Dag is equal to 7, symbolizing the holy day, the 7th day in the week. It also symbolizes good luck in the Jewish culture as well as fertility, both things the Jewish people are more than to encourage.
While it is traditional for Jewish people to eat fish on their Sabbath, day of rest, a problem ensues. There are so many bones within a fresh fish’s cavity and Jewish people are not permitted to separate good from bad on Shabbat as it is considered work. Therefore, the genius Jewish housewives came up with the idea to grind the meat of the carp, whitefish and pike and stuff it back into the skin of the fish. Gefilte, in Yiddish, literally means stuffed which is where the name comes from. The original recipe for gefilte fish was cheap as they come with onions, carrots and matzo meal to help flavor this new-fangled fish. But unlike the jarred versions that are well known nowadays with their strange jelly, gefilte fish was a labor of love with hours spend boiling the fish grinding it and shaping it by hand. Now, many premade rolls are available but I bet you will find that every good Jewish mother has their own way to make it and swears by it. In my home, we never ate it as intended, it was always fried into patties and served with a dill and mayonnaise sauce. For years it was my brother's favorite food. He especially loved them when they were made by Maria, our housekeeper.
In many homes you may find the new “Jewish” fish taking over the Shabbat table; sushi. But some people still cling to the classic and iconic gefilte fish. Respect. Even if they are mix it up a little bit. I've had gefilte fish so many ways over the years I imagine it is just one of those recipes begging for an update. My aunt makes hers with loads of sugar which is a solid improvement. My mother in law (#1) mixes the fish with onions and dill and bakes in into a tomato sauce and that tastes great but I think my favorite is the Moroccan version my neighbor makes with the spicy tomato sauce, almost like a shakshuka with fish balls instead of eggs. It was way past time for me to add my version to the mix, don't you think?
With my love for all things Asian and with a nod to my own family’s classic preparation of gefilte fish patties, I have created a Japanese style gefilte fish cake or patty with a miso wasabi mayo. I mean, why not subject Jewish food tradition to the melting pot multiculturalism that pretty much IS America.
Note: The mixture will be sicky and hard to work with. To avoid a huge mess, use an ice cream scooper or two spoons to form the patties and just drop the batter straight into the panko, avoid handeling as much as possible. Unless of course, you are one of those people from the direct TV comercials who just like getting messy fish paste all over their hands.
1 loaf frozen gefilte fish, defrosted
3 scallions thinly sliced, ends removed
½ tsp grated ginger
1 clove garlic grated
1 can corn, drained
1 tablespoon white or shiro miso
1 teaspoon fish sauce or soy sauce
1 egg whisked
1 cup panko
¼ cup toasted sesame seeds
salt and pepper to taste
1. Unwrap the Gefilte fish and place the in a large bowl.
2. Mix in the scallions, ginger, garlic, corn, miso, fish or soy sauce, and egg. The mixture will be very sticky and hard to handle
3. In a shallow pan mix the panko crumbs and sesame seeds and spread in a single layer
4. Heat a large skillet with oil to coat the bottom of the skillet on medium heat.
5. Using an 1.5 inch to 2 inch ice cream scooper scoop up some of the gefilte mixture. Place gently into the panko mixture and gather panko crumbs to place over the patty so that it is covered completely. Press lightly so a puck shape is formed instead of a scoop shape.
6. When the oil is shimmering place the patty very gently into the oil. Fry for about 2-3 minutes on each side or until the panko is golden. Place on a cooling rack to drain and cool. Serve with wasabi mayo (recipe below) warm or at room temperature.
7. To make in advance after frying allow the patties to cool, cover and store in a tightly sealed container up to one day in advance. To reheat place on a cooking sheet lined with a cooling rack in an oven set at 350 F. lightly brush or spray with oil and heat for 10-15 minutes or until warmed through.
Yields: 10-12 patties
½ cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon white or shiro miso
2 teaspoons unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon wasabi powder
1 teaspoon mirin
¼ teaspoon white pepper (optional for a spicy version)
In a small bowl mix the ingredients together just before serving. This cannot be made in advance or it will emulsify and become liquid.