My Reconciliation with Gefilte Fish
Last night, I attended my first Passover seder in many, many years, joining my dear friends Tammy and Rocco and their extended circle for the prix fixe dinner at Kutsher’s Tribeca. Though we did read from the Haggadah (thank you, Loretta, for motivating our rag-tag group of Jews and Gentiles), it was all a bit, shall we say, “free form.” (I’m being kind.) I’m still not sure if the stares we received for our table’s muffled, off-key rendition of “Go Tell it on the Mountain” were motivated by disdain or pity.
The meal was non-traditional in at least one other respect as well—Kutsher’s version of gefilte fish. Let me start by saying that I do not keep a fond image of this dish near the front of my mental filing cabinet, where it could easily be retrieved. (In fact, it’s more like a repressed traumatic memory, buried under a granite slab, deep in the Earth’s molten core, encased in a vault worthy of Al Capone.)
It’s no exaggeration to say that gefilte fish is the single reason that I’ve never been more aggressive about asking my Jewish friends to include me in their seders. My abiding image of the dish is that of a quenelle-like lump coated with a quivering, gelatinous sheen and suspended in a jar of cloudy liquid of dubious origin. The four questions it prompts in me have nothing to do with the Passover story. They go something like this: “What is that?” “What was that thing before THAT was done to it?” “Why on earth would someone do that to a poor, defenseless fish?” and “You don’t expect me to eat that, do you?” (And this is coming from someone who LOVES traditional Jewish food. I have nothing but glowing Proustian memories of pastrami and pickles at Katz’s Deli, rugelach at the now-defunct Gertel’s Bakery on Hester Street, and all manner of delicacies from Russ and Daughters. Clearly, this particular dish has gone out of its way to antagonize me.)
While last night’s gefilte fish was not my favorite course of the seder (that title goes to the fork-tender brisket—though the chopped liver, pickled veggies, and matzoh-ball soup all gave it a run for its money), I will credit Kutsher’s with helping me hit the reset button on a particularly odious food memory. No gelatin anywhere, as you can see from the image above. The fish was tender and moist without being slippery. And its clean, neutral flavor paired perfectly with the sharper beet-horseradish mixture at its side. In short, this is a gefilte fish to which I would gladly raise one of the traditional four cups of wine.
Happy Pesach, everyone! Now it’s on to Easter dinner with the family…