By Laura B. Weiss
It’s almost Rosh Hashanah, so it’s time to talk about gefilte fish. Or at least that’s what the Center for Jewish History must have decided when they put together a panel of fish mavens last week to discuss what’s perhaps the most reviled holiday food of all times.
In fact, that’s what most of the discussion was about as the panelists, along with moderator Mitchell Davis of the James Beard Foundation, aimed bullet after bullet at the gray-hued Ashkenazi standby. The panelists were Elizabeth Alpern and Jeffrey Yoskowitz of the Gefilteria, Brooklyn; Zach Kutsher of Kutsher’s Tribeca; Jack Lebewohl of 2nd Ave Deli; and Israeli chef Omer Miller.
Let me be frank:I loathe gefilte fish. Gray is not my food color of choice. Anything in gelatin makes me gag. Gefilte tastes like rotten water, if there is such a thing.
And then there’s its smell, kind of like damp laundry that’s been left out too long to dry.
“I smell gefilte fish,” a customer once told Lebewohl upon entering the 2nd Avenue Deli. Is this a good thing for a restaurant trying to sell people its food? I doubt it.
Zach Kutsher, whose family owns the iconic Borscht Belt resort of the same name, said gefilte fish was the most polarizing dish on the menu of his new eatery, Kutsher’s Tribeca. Another panelist provided the only positive review of the benighted dish—that it’s associated with Sabbath dinner and thus contains a heavy dose of nostalgia along with its mother lode of carp.
In an effort to make gefilte fish more trendy—trendy gefilte fish? Sorry, that’s an oxymoron—places like Gefilteria are making theirs with newfangled ingredients like sustainably sourced whitefish, pike and salmon. It’s Ashkenazi food for hipsters.
But at a tasting afterwards, I decided that gefilte was immune to a culinary rehab. Mobs of people crushed against the tables as if the tiny nibbles of giflte were their last morsel of food on earth. I only managed to snag two samples, one from the Second Avenue deli (your standard issue gefilte) and one from Kutscher’s. That rendition was light and a bit dry with not too much flavor, which in the case of gefilte can only be viewed as a plus.
Sorry, I’m still a hater no matter how much the dish is gussied up. It’s trendy-proof.
Here’s a recipe for Gefilte Fish from Joan Nathan, the noted Jewish cookbook author via Epicurious. Click here for the recipe.