Whether you buy it in a jar or make it from scratch, gefilte fish is a Passover staple. West Coast cooks have found a new twist on this old stand-by—salmon!
Gefilte fish, parve balls of ground up fish, which do not require deboning and thus can be eaten on the Sabbath, are traditionally made with a mixture of pike and whitefish. In many Jewish families, gefilte fish recipes date back to Europe and the shtetl.
"You have to remember where gefilte fish originated," says Rena Isaacson, a foodie and blogger from Jerusalem. "It was in middle Europe and was made by poor Jews with fish they could afford and was easily available. Gefilte fish was 'invented', if you will, to stretch the amount of fish the family could afford to buy. By grinding it up and adding fillers such as onion, matzo meal and eggs the fish could be 'stretched' to feed more than just a few people."
Cooks living on the West Coast have reinvented the traditional recipe with salmon, a West Coast staple. "My family lives all over the United States," explains Jenn Felmley, a California-based chef-educator. "The West Coast side of the family, me in particular, is in charge of the Passover dinners and I make salmon gefllte fish."
Known affectionately by her students as Chef Jenn, Felmley spent years honing her craft in some of the finest kitchens in Europe and America including the Deepak Chopra Center at La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad.
"I like to keep Passover meals traditional, but, after trying my first batch of gefilte fish, I couldn't get over the muddy taste."
That is when Jenn decided to add a little West Coast verve to her dish. Building on recipes for salmon mousse, she incorporated poached salmon into her gefilte fish recipe. "I went to this great seafood place in Santa Monica to buy the salmon," laughs Jenn. "I thought my idea was so original. I thought I was a genius. But when I got there I wasn't alone. There were others buying salmon for their gefilte fish!"
Chef Jenn, believing she was breaking new ground, had stumbled upon a West Coast cooking tradition all its own—adding salmon to a time-honored Passover classic. "Even the older, traditional members of my family like it. I haven't really changed it too much; I have just added a new flavor."