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Gefilte fish

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Gefilte fish: whole stuffed & garnished fish

Gefilte fish (/ɡəˈfɪltə fɪʃ/, from Yiddish: געפֿילטע פֿיש, "stuffed fish") is a poached fish mince stuffed into the fish skin.

More common since the Second World War are the Polish patties similar to quenelles or fish balls made from a mixture of ground deboned fish, mostly carp or pike. They are popular in the Ashkenazi Jewish community and are typically eaten on Shabbat and Holidays such as Passover, although it can be consumed throughout the year.

Preparation and serving

Traditionally, carp, pike, mullet, or whitefish were used to make gefilte fish, but more recently other fish with white flesh such as Nile Perch have been used, and there is a pink variation using salmon. There are even vegetarian variations.

Ingredients require selecting a fish that is preferably at least 3 kilograms (6.6 lb) in weight. Also required are 1 kilogram (2.2 lb) of brown cooking onions, 200 millilitres (6.8 US fl oz) of vegetable oil (traditionally sunflower oil), salt, pepper, and five eggs.

The fish is deboned and the flesh mixed with ingredients, including bread crumbs or matza meal, and fried onion. Cooking takes as much as 3 hours.

Due to the general poverty of the Jewish population in Eastern Europe, the 'economic' recipe for the above also may have included extra ground and soaked matza meal or bread crumbs creating many more "spare" fish balls. This form of preparation eliminated the need for picking out fish bones at the table, and "stretched" the fish further, so that even poor, but often large, families could enjoy fish on Shabbat.


Gefilte fish may be slightly sweet or savory. Preparation of gefilte fish with sugar or black pepper is considered an indicator of whether a Jewish community was Galitzianer (with sugar) or Litvak (with pepper), hence the boundary separating northern from southern East Yiddish has been dubbed "the Gefilte Fish Line". This is largely attributed to less availability of fresh fish in the inland areas before refrigeration, with the sugar used to 'mask' the sometimes less-than-fresh taste of the fish.


Among religiously observant Jews, gefilte fish has become a traditional Shabbat food to avoid borer ("selection/choosing"), which is one of the 39 activities prohibited on Shabbat outlined in the Shulchan Aruch. Borer would occur when one picks the bones out of the fish, taking "the chaff from within the food."

A less common belief is that fish are not subject to "ayin hara" ("evil eye") because they are submerged while alive, so that a dish prepared from several fish varieties brings good luck.

Fish is parve, neither milk nor meat, and according to kosher law, it may be eaten at both meat and dairy meals (although some Haredi communities avoid eating fish and meat on the same plate).

Where the stipulated head of the sheep is unobtainable for the Rosh Hashana meal, many use the gefilte fish, with the fish head served to the head of the family, usually the husband.

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