My grandmother was a phenomenal cook and baker, of the Old Country style. From her lokshen to her strudel, everything she put on the table was divine. Witness my hip measurements. But, as many kids, it didn’t occur to me to ask many questions, much less to request her recipes. But when I turned 19 I finally had the presence of mind to ask Bubbie for them. Of course, they were all in her head so she would have to write them down for me.
Bubbie was a tough customer. She told me that if I could read and write Yiddish, her native language, she would write them down.
“But, Bubbie,” I whined. “I read, write, and speak Hebrew!” (Maybe I fibbed. In truth, my skill at the time was rudimentary at best.)
“Yiddish or nothing,” she replied.
Bubbie died two months later. Nobody got the recipes.
Fast forward to 2020. While doing research recently for an article on gefilte fish, I had to prepare some. I followed the traditional method of making a fish broth (with a fish head, no less — yuck.), chopping the flesh, and mixing it with various other ingredients. Frankly, it was simply a way to connect with my bubbie. If only she had written down her fabulous recipes. The recipe I did use, from a book auspiciously titled The Encyclopedia of Jewish Cooking, didn’t yield terrific results. Worse, the house reeked so badly that I had to bake a chocolate cake the next day to counter the malodorous fumes.
Having learned through research that the original stuffed fish recipes called for roasting or baking, I went to my friend Dr. Google and found a recipe for a semi-homemade gefilte fish using the frozen loaf you can find at your local grocery store. You don’t have to club the fish. You don’t have to clean the fish. You certainly won’t need to brew up a stinky broth with a fish’s head. No, you can simply follow this easy recipe and do as our ancestors did before the broth: They baked it!
This gefilte fish recipe, adapted from Jamie Geller, is so good that it doesn’t even need horseradish. It is, in fact, the best I have ever tasted.
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons dried parsley
2 pinches ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 loaf frozen gefilte fish, paper removed, not thawed
3 large onions, sliced in rounds
3 garlic cloves, minced
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Pour the olive oil into the bottom of a loaf or small baking pan. Add the paprika, parsley, 1 pinch of the allspice, the salt, and pepper.
Roll the frozen loaf in the oil and spices to coat.
Remove the loaf from the pan, arrange the onion on the bottom of the pan, and place the loaf on top of the onion.
Sprinkle with the garlic and the remaining 1 pinch allspice. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil.
Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 2 hours.
Cool the gefilte fish completely, then refrigerate overnight.
Serve cold, sliced and topped with the onions.