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Falsher Fish

September 16, 2020

aka MOCK GEFILTE FISH

This beloved dish is from my Mom, Gerta Weintraub (from northern Romania), who received the tradition from her mother, who received the tradition from generations before her.

No, there’s no fish anywhere in sight and I am not making fun of anything, certainly not gefilte fish. The polkelech (drumsticks) in the recipe were a recent addition by unanimous vote, because my Mom and I adore them.  Excellent for lunch after Rosh Hashanah, and as a forshpeis (appetizer).

My Mom is 97 now, and it’s probably more than 15 years since she made falsher fish, and probably the same amount of time for me. When I brought her some for lunch to share, her eyes lit up, and she said, with delight, “Kalichlech!” (chicken balls). My heart melted.  I had not heard that Yiddish word in a long time.

I recently contributed this recipe to a small compilation of New Year Recipes of my synagogue, Temple Beth Am. My friend Norm Green sent me this juicy morsel of history:

“You might be interested to know the origin of the dish.  Some Chasidim, especially Satmar (a sect of Jews who are from the border areas of Hungary and Romania, as was your mother’s family) do not eat fish on Passover, because they fear the fish might have eaten some bread and not fully digested it, so that there might be some chametz (leavened bread) inside. So they prepared chicken in the way that they would have made gefilte fish to eat it as a substitute.  I’m surprised that your family had it for Rosh Hashonah, but why not?  If it’s good, it’s good.”

Yes Norm, it truly is GOOD (with all those onions, how can it not be?) And if you are preparing it for Passover, swap out the amount of breadcrumbs for an equal amount of matzo meal, and omit the baking powder (adding a bit more salt).

And a bb Note: The key to a super-flavorful jellied broth (sultz), is to push the cooked onions through a sieve, mashing firmly with the back of a regular large spoon and then skimming all that delicious oniony-richness into the broth. As you can see in the photo, I used a slotted spoon. Mistake! Very ineffective. Stick with a regular big stainless steel spoon.

Falsher Fish has made a comeback! May this season bring you joy…

Falsher Fish

Ingredients:

6 chicken drumsticks                                                        

6 chicken wings

4 chicken necks

1 ¾ large onions, cut in 4 (the remaining ¼ onion is used for the chicken balls)

1 stalk celery, cut in half at the equator

3 medium carrots, cut in thirds

10 cups water

½ large bunch Italian parsley, tied with kitchen twine

12-18 whole peppercorns

½ – 1 teaspoon salt, to taste

For the chicken balls:

1 lb. ground chicken

¼ large onion, chopped fine

¼ cup soft Challah bread crumbs

1 egg

½ teaspoon baking powder

2 T. chicken broth

A little salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Place cleaned and rinsed chicken pieces in soup pot, cover with onions, celery, carrots and peppercorns. Place parsley bundle on top. Add enough cold water to cover – should be 9-10 cups.

Bring to boil, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer and cook, without a lid, for 45 minutes. If the pot seems too crowded for the kalichlach, remove the chicken wings.

Meanwhile, make the chicken ball mixture. Using a mini-food processor or chopper, pulse a small section of challah until you have fine bread crumbs.  You will only need ¼ cup.  Save the rest for another use.

In a large glass bowl, mix ground chicken with chopped onion, egg, bread crumbs, baking powder and salt and pepper. Add 2 tablespoons of the chicken stock.

Set up a small bowl of cold water. Working quickly, dip your fingers in water and roll small balls of chicken mixture, about an inch and a half in diameter (Don’t worry, this is not an exact science. You’re making Kalichlech, for goodness sake!  Think small matzoh balls.)  You should have about 20, give or take.

Return stock to a simmer and cook for another half-hour. Remove chicken pieces, chicken balls and carrots (you can slice carrots before placing in fridge) and place in casserole or bowl.

Remove celery, parsley and peppercorns, if you can find them. With the back of a large spoon, mash onions, a little at a time, through the sieve and scrape the bottom so the good oniony stuff falls into the stock.  Use a little bit of the stock to pour over the chicken to keep moist.

Store the stock in glass bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge to gel. Once gelled, it does not take kindly to being transferred to a smaller bowl. Keep it in the same bowl until eaten.Serve cold, as you would gefilte fish, with a spoonful of the jelled stock (sultz). Be sure to scoop up the sultz with the Challah. Geshmak! aka YUM!  Serves 6-8.

PS If you have gelled stock left over, it’s like super-concentrated, delicious chicken broth. Add a little water and enjoy it heated with noodles, rice, or as is!

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