Smoked Whitefish Gefilte Fish with Lemon-Horseradish Sauce

photo taken by artizone, on October 21, 2011, CC licensing

adapted from Jewish Holiday Cooking: A Food Lover's Treasury of Classics and Improvisations by Jayne Cohen (Wiley, 2008)

Yield: About 24 fish dumplings

This unusual recipe, combining smoked whitefish with a mild fillet like flounder, is from a seder meal I devised for Bon Appetit magazine. It's much quicker to prepare than traditional gefilte fish, because the delicate dumplings are steamed between cabbage leaves to keep them moist, not poached in fish broth. Leftovers can be refrigerated for a few days.

For the Fish:

  • Kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup scraped and thinly sliced carrots
  • 1/4 cup matzoh meal
  • 2 tablespoons mild olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup trimmed and chopped scallions, white and light green parts only (about 6 medium scallions)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 pounds mild white-fleshed fish fillets (such as sole or flounder), skin and any bones removed and discarded, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 cups smoked whitefish, carefully removed from the bones of a 2 to 2 1/2 pound fish
  • 1 large cabbage, separated into leaves and rinsed (these are discarded before serving, so you can use slightly imperfect or dark green outer leaves)

For the Lemon-Horseradish Sauce:

  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons prepared white horseradish
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
  • Soft lettuce or endive, or radicchio leaves, for lining the plates

Prepare the fish: Bring 1 cup lightly salted water to boil in a small saucepan. Add the carrots and simmer until very tender, about 8 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup cooking water in a small bowl. Stir the matzoh meal into the reserved cooking water; let stand 10 minutes to soften and absorb liquid. Put the carrots in a food processor.

Warm the oil in a heavy medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion, salt and pepper lightly, and saute until soft and shiny, about 8 minutes. Add the scallions and stir 1 minute. Transfer the onion mixture to the food processor. Add the matzoh meal mixture and puree until everything is smooth.

Using an electric mixer, beat 3 of the eggs and the lemon juice in a large bowl until foamy and slightly thickened, about 4 minutes. Stir in the mixture from the food processor, but don't clean the processor yet.
Put the fish fillets, smoked fish, about 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste), and about 1/4 teaspoon pepper in the food processor. Using on-off turns, chop until fine. Add the remaining egg and pulse to a coarse paste. Transfer the fish mixture to the bowl and combine thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate until very cold, at least 2 hours.
Line a large baking sheet with waxed paper. Wetting your hands with cold water if necessary, form the mixture into ovals, using about 1/4 cup for each. Place on the prepared baking sheet. Cover with waxed paper and chill while preparing the cabbage and steamer.

In a large, wide pot with a tight-fitting lid, place a rack that stands about 2 inches high (if you don't have a vegetable steamer, a round cake rack works well; if the rack is not high enough, set it over two custard cups or empty tuna cans). Fill the pot with enough water to meet, but not cover, the bottom of the rack. Line the rack with a layer of cabbage leaves. Arrange 8 fish ovals in a single layer on the cabbage leaves; cover the fish with another layer of leaves. Bring the water in the pot to a boil. Cover the pot and steam the fish over medium heat until cooked through at center and firm to the touch, about 25 minutes. Transfer top layer of cabbage leaves to a platter. Top with the cooked fish ovals. Cover them with the bottom cabbage leaves. Steam the remaining fish ovals in additional cabbage leaves in 2 more batches, adding more water to the pot if needed. Let the cooked gefilte fish cool to room temperature. Keeping the fish covered with the cooked cabbage leaves so it will remain moist, wrap the whole platter with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until cold, at least 6 hours. (Can be prepared about 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.)

Prepare the sauce: Put the garlic through a press or mince it fine and place in a small bowl. Stir in the horseradish and lemon juice. Whisk in the mayonnaise. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and set aside, refrigerated, at least 30 minutes before serving. (Can be prepared one day ahead; keep refrigerated.)

To serve: For best flavor, serve the fish chilled but not icy cold. Remove the fish from the cabbage leaves and arrange attractively on platters or individual plates lined with lettuce, endive, or radicchio. Accompany with lemon-horseradish sauce.

Sephardic or Askhenazi