Gefilte fish
Gefilte fish topped with slices of carrot
CourseHors d'oeuvre
Region or stateCentral and Eastern Europe, United States, Israel.
Created byAshkenazi Jewish communities
Main ingredientsGround fish
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Gefilte fish (/ɡəˈfɪltə fɪʃ/; from Yiddish: געפֿילטע פֿיש‎, "stuffed fish") is a dish made from a poached mixture of ground deboned fish, such as carp, whitefish, or pike. It is traditionally served as an appetizer by Ashkenazi Jewish households. Historically it consisted of a minced-fish forcemeat stuffed inside the intact fish skin. By the 16th century, cooks had started omitting the labor-intensive stuffing step, and the seasoned fish is most commonly formed into patties similar to quenelles or fish balls. These are popular on Shabbat and Jewish holidays such as Passover, although they may be consumed throughout the year.[1]

In Poland, gefilte fish, referred to as karp po żydowsku ("carp Jewish-style"), is a traditional dish in most Polish homes (more commonly in the northern regions near the Baltic Sea), served on Christmas Eve (for twelve-dish supper) and on Holy Saturday.[2]

Preparation and serving

Gefilte fish: whole stuffed and garnished fish
Gefilte fish: whole stuffed and garnished fish

To make gefilte fish, fish fillets are ground and mixed with eggs (some recipes exclude eggs), breadcrumbs or matza crumbs, spices, salt, onions, carrots, and sometimes potatoes, to produce a paste or dough which is then simmered in fish stock.[3]

Traditionally, carp, pike, mullet, or whitefish have been used to make gefilte fish. Modernly, Nile perch and salmon are also commonly used, with gefilte fish made from salmon having a slightly pink hue.

Gefilte fish is traditionally cooked inside the intact skin of a fish, forming a loaf which is then sliced into portions before serving. Sometimes it is cooked and served as egg-shaped patties, like quenelles. In the United Kingdom, gefilte fish is commonly fried.[4] Gefilte fish is typically garnished with a slice of carrot on top, and a horseradish mixture called chrain on the side.

Gefilte fish is often eaten on sabbath. However, on sabbath, separating bones from meat, as well as cooking, are forbidden by the Talmud. So usually, the dish is prepared the day before and served cold or at room temperature.

In Polish Catholic homes, gefilte fish (Polish: karp po żydowsku) is a traditional dish to be eaten on Christmas Eve and Holy Saturday, as these are traditionally meatless feasts.[5] This follows a pattern in which a number of Jewish dishes were also eaten on Catholic religious days in Poland.[5]


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); the boundary separating northern from southern East Yiddish has thus been dubbed "the Gefilte Fish Line".[6]


Jars of gefilte fish in Israel
Jars of gefilte fish in Israel

The post-WWII method of making gefilte fish commercially takes the form of patties or balls, or utilizes a wax paper casing around a "log" of ground fish, which is then poached or baked. This product is sold in cans and glass jars, and packed in jelly made from fish broth. The sodium content is relatively high at 220–290 mg/serving. Low-salt, low-carbohydrate, low-cholesterol, and sugar-free varieties are available. The patent (US 3108882  "Method for Preparing an Edible Fish Product") for this jelly, which allowed mass-market distribution of gefilte fish, was granted on October 29, 1963, to Monroe Nash and Erich G. Freudenstein.[7] Gefilte fish is also sold frozen in "logs".

Religious considerations

Among religiously observant Jews, gefilte fish has become a traditional Shabbat food to avoid borer, which is one of the 39 activities prohibited on Shabbat outlined in the Shulchan Aruch. Borer, literally "selection/choosing", would occur when one picks the bones out of the fish, taking "the chaff from within the food".[8]

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.[9]

See also


  1. ^ Marks, Gil. Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. Houghton Mifflin.
  2. ^ Jochnowitz, Eve (1998), "Chapter 4: Flavors of Memory: Jewish Food as Culinary Tourism in Poland", in Long, Lucy M. (ed.), Culinary Tourism, University Press of Kentucky, pp. 97–113, ISBN 0813126398, In the public imagination of both Americans and Poles, it is frequently gefilte fish—particularly sweetened gefilte fish—that has outdistanced matzoh as the food that first comes to mind when Jewish food is discussed (Cooper 1993; dc Pomianc 1985). Gefilte fish is sometimes referred to as karp po żydowsku or "Jewish carp," ... Many restaurants in Cracow and Warsaw that are in no other way marked as Jewish offer karp po żydowsku as either an appetizer or a main course. Stranger still, karp po żydowsku has become a traditional dish in many Catholic Polish homes for Christmas Eve and Holy Saturday, traditionally meatless feasts.
  3. ^ Попова, Марта Федоровна (2004). Секреты Одесской кухни. Одесса: Друк. p. 163. ISBN 966-8149-36-X. [Popova, Marta (2004). Secrets of Odessa Cuisine (in Russian). Odessa: Druk. p. 163.]
  4. ^ "Gefilte Fish, Fried to Perfection". The Forward. Retrieved 2018-07-24.
  5. ^ a b Johnowitz, Eva. Chapter 4, "Flavors of Memory", in Culinary Tourism, Lucy M. Long (ed.). University Press of Kentucky, 2013.
  6. ^ Bill Gladstone: This is no fish tale: Gefilte tastes tell story of ancestry. Jewish Telegraphic Agency, September 10, 1999. Accessed November 10, 2010
  7. ^ Method of Preparing an Edible Fish Product. Accessed November 10, 2010
  8. ^ Rabbi Zushe Blech: "The Fortunes of a Fish", website. Accessed March 30, 2006.
  9. ^ Gil Marks: "Something's fishy in the State of Israel" Archived 2006-03-29 at the Wayback Machine, Orthodox Union website. Accessed March 30, 2006.