Getting Creative With A Passover Staple: Gefilte Fish The poached fish patties have been called the national dish of the Ashkenazi, the Jews of Eastern Europe. But as tastes change and Jews travel far from Europe — to places like the West Coast of the United States — they have found new ways to keep the tradition alive.
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Getting Creative With A Passover Staple: Gefilte Fish

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Getting Creative With A Passover Staple: Gefilte Fish

Getting Creative With A Passover Staple: Gefilte Fish

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/125170590/125274283" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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LIANE HANSEN, Host:

In Portland, Oregon, Deena Prichep explores what happens when gefilte fish hits the West Coast.

DEENA PRICHEP: Robert Sternberg is a cookbook author, culinary historian and rabbi. And he, like many people, is not a big fan of gefilte fish from a jar.

ROBERT STERNBERG: Inedible, absolutely inedible. Wouldn't touch it. Once you've had the real thing, you can tell the difference.

PRICHEP: And Rabbi Sternberg has definitely had the real thing. His grandmother came from a small town in Lithuania and used to make her traditional gefilte fish from fresh carp, whitefish and pike. And when I say fresh, I mean really fresh.

STERNBERG: When she would make gefilte fish, and that was nearly every other week, I knew it was going to be a gefilte fish week, because on Thursday live fish would be swimming in the bathtub.

PRICHEP: Jenn Louis runs Lincoln Restaurant in north Portland. Like many West Coasters, she makes her gefilte fish out of salmon and halibut, which usually start their spring runs right around Passover.

JENN LOUIS: The salmon has a little more fat content to it, a little bit more structure and a little bit more of a bold flavor. And the halibut is a really, really lean fish. It's very, very delicate. But together, I think, they just complement each other very well.

PRICHEP: Louis' recipe initially came from a family of fourth-generation Oregon Jews. But she's also added her own touches.

LOUIS: I like a little more updated version, with some lemon zest, which kind of gives a brighter flavor, some fennel frond. And then I use a court bouillon, which is an acidic poaching liquid with white wine, fennel seeds, peppercorns.

PRICHEP: Louis doesn't have qualms about tinkering with many people's traditional idea of gefilte fish. Jewish cuisine reflects a range of flavors, she says, even within her own household.

LOUIS: My husband is Sephardic - his family's from Greece by way of Spain - and my family is Ashkenazi, mostly Russia and Poland. And so we grew up with really different foods. He didn't grow up with bagels, lox and cream cheese, and I did. He grew up with representation of more of a Mediterranean diet.

PRICHEP: So while Louis' West Coast gefilte fish may sound strange, to culinary historians like Rabbi Sternberg, it's very much a part of Jewish tradition.

STERNBERG: Jewish cooking will always look first at local ingredients, at seasonal ingredients. You know, using what's regionally available, and working with it in the traditional ways, which is really a cornerstone of all cuisine.

PRICHEP: For NPR News, I'm Deena Prichep in Portland, Oregon.

HANSEN: For Jenn Louis's West Coast Gefilte Fish recipe, go to NPR.org. This is NPR News.

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