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Whether you love it or hate it, gefilte fish is just one of those foods that you can’t make sexy. The Passover staple—typically made with ground carp, whitefish, or pike—is mushy, fishy, and an unappetizing grayish-tan color. While many people buy the stinky stuff in jars, chefs have made many attempts over the years to dress it up and create their own upscale versions. The latest is BLT Steak, which serves four lumps of pike “gefilte” fish with English pea veloute and pickled chanterelles for a whopping $35. The dish, along with truffled matzo ball soup, kugel gratin, and other twists on Jewish staples, will be available for lunch and dinner through April 19.
BLT Steak chef Jeremy Shelton is not Jewish and admits he’s never even tried other gefilte fish before. The recipe, it turns out, comes from the restaurant’s corporate chefs. To make it, Shelton grinds fresh pike and combines it in an electronic mixer with a matzo-based panade as well as confit garlic, salt, butter, and cream. It’s then pureed in a food processor and passed through fine mesh so it’s completely smooth. The result is fluffy, almost creamy, dumplings without any fishiness of typical gefilte fish. Pickled chanterelle mushrooms add some tanginess that the gefilte fish lacks, but the creamy pea veloute overwhelms the warm fish’s subtle flavors. It’s a decent dish, but anyone looking for something reminiscent of what their bubbie makes will be disappointed. And given that gefilte fish is traditionally a poor man’s food, the $35 price tag should make any Jewish mother shake her head in disapproval.
Meanwhile, DGS Delicatessen chef Barry Koslow is also making his own more traditional version of gefilte fish. Four pieces go for $16 on the restaurant’s Passover catering menu, which is available through April 21. (The gefilte fish isn’t on the regular dinner menu.) While Koslow adds flare to many traditional Jewish dishes, he’s playing it straight with the gefilte fish. He combines whitefish, carp, and pike with fresh herbs and matzo meal soaked with fish stock. Compared to the jarred version, Koslow says it’s “night and day just solely based on the fact that it’s fresh fish…It’s like the difference between a fresh-made meatball and a SpaghettiOs meatball.”
Koslow admits he once ventured into the dark arts of “modernized” gefilte fish with a variation made out of scallops. “It was delicious, it was the best gefilte fish I ever had,” he says of the not-at-all-kosher dish. “But it’s not something we do here, and it’s not something people want for Passover, at least not the traditionalists…They want that nostalgic version.”
Check out some photos of BLT Steak’s Passover menu below.
The truffle-infused matzo ball comes on a bed of finely chopped carrots and celery. A server pours the broth tableside.
Kugel gratin is far more creamy and rich than any kugel I’ve ever had. The egg noodles are not Kosher for Passover.
Photos by Jessica Sidman