Jul 30

Fish—and more fish

One day, as a not-so-young bride, I decided to make my own gefilte fish for our Sabbath table. Inspired by stories from those better versed in the traditional Jewish kitchen than I, I went to the market and purchased…a whole, fresh carp. Dead it was. But, cleaned and gutted it was not. Beheaded it was not. I dumped it in the kitchen sink. It shivered like jelly. I ran out of the kitchen.

Later that evening, when my husband arrived home, I told him, “If you really love me, you will cut the head off that fish.”

The dastardly deed was done, and all that remained was to debone and skin the fish, grind it up, spice it up, and boil it up into gefilte fish balls—that famous Jewish delicacy that Generations Y and Z (aka “my children”) refuse to touch. Though I performed these remaining tasks valiantly, I must admit that the final result of my first culinary foray into fresh fish was not a happy one.

This stirring episode of newly wedded bliss was brought forcibly to mind (to borrow a phrase from Regency historical author Georgette Heyer) when I set about researching recipes for this blog post on Regency-era and modern-day fish recipes and came across a recipe in The Jane Austen Cookbook by Maggie Black and Deirdre Le Faye that provides instructions in lurid detail for preparing and cooking Sole with Wine and Mushrooms. It is grossly reminiscent of my attempt to conquer fresh carp:

Mark Catesby - The Sole (Pleuronectes lunatus), published 1731-1743, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Mark Catesby – The Sole (Pleuronectes lunatus), published 1731-1743, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Skin, gut, and wash your soles very clean; cut off their heads, and dry your fish in a cloth. Then very carefully cut the flesh from the bones and fins on both sides, and cut the flesh long ways, and then across, so that each sole may be in eight pieces. Take the heads and bones, and put them into a saucepan, with a pint of water, a bundle of sweet herbs, an onion, a little whole pepper, two or three blades of mace, a little salt, a small piece of lemon-peel, and a crust of bread. Cover it close, and let it boil till half be wasted. Then strain it through a fine sieve, and put it into a stewpan. Put in the soles, and with them half a pint of white wine, a little parsley chopped fine, a few mushrooms cut small, a little grated nutmeg, and a piece of butter rolled in flour. Set all together on the fire, but keep shaking the pan all the while till the fish be enough. Then dish them up, and garnish with lemon.

Today, thankfully, I can purchase sole already beheaded, gutted, cleaned, and sliced. And, rather than poaching it with wine and mushrooms, I stuff it with spinach and onions before baking it, or else I coat it with beaten egg and flour and then serve it fried. As for gefilte fish, I serve it not at all—unless my husband and I are home alone for the Sabbath, in which case I purchase the smallest jar of fish I can find.

Fish, an important dish at the dinner table during the British Regency, is an especially timely topic at the moment, as religious Jews throughout the world are currently observing the “Nine Days”—the first nine days of the Jewish month of Av, which is a time of deep mourning for the destruction of the first and second Holy Temples in Jerusalem. Traditionally, during the Nine Days, the consumption of meat and wine is prohibited. As a result, fish takes pride of place on many menus during this period.

Because I belong to the cooking school that subscribes to the theory of minimum effort, but maximum taste, I will not be making Sole with Wine and Mushrooms. It involves too much fuss and bother—or patchke, as my late mother would say. I might, however, put salmon on the dinner menu. Here are two easy salmon recipes that even Generations Y and Z will eat:

Salmon Fillet with Dill Sauce

6 slices salmon fillet

"Illustration Anethum graveolens0" (Dill). Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

“Illustration Anethum graveolens0” (Dill). Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Lemon juice


1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. vinegar
1 heaping tsp. chopped or dried dill
1 tsp. dried parsley (optional)
2 cloves garlic, chopped, or 2 tsp. granulated garlic

Rinse salmon fillets and soak in lemon juice for five minutes. Rinse again and pat dry. Place in baking pan lined with baking paper.

Mix sauce ingredients together and spread over fillets. Bake in preheated 350° F (180° C) oven for 20-30 minutes, or until done.

Note: Chef beware, my salmon never bakes within 20-30 minutes, so I usually end up covering it with baking paper and letting it continue baking for another 15-30 minutes. Either my family likes our salmon well done, or my oven does not like baking salmon!

Salmon Croquettes

We always loved salmon croquettes when I was growing up, and my own children love these salmon patties, too. The big difference in the menu is that my mother used to serve them with baked macaroni and cheese. I serve them with salad and plain noodles, because Generations Y and Z do not like macaroni and cheese. Go figure.

1 large can (2 c.) red salmon
2 eggs, beaten
Dried onions
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tbsp. breadcrumbs or flour
Oil for frying or baking

Drain salmon, reserving juice. Clean and mash salmon. Add eggs, onions, salt, and pepper. Mix well. Strain salmon juice and add small amount to bread crumbs to moisten. Add breadcrumbs to salmon; mix well. Refrigerate 1-1/2 hours.

Form into patties. Fry in small amount of oil until brown on both sides. Alternatively, place on lined baking sheet, brush with oil or coat with cooking spray, and bake at 350-400° F (180-200° C) for approximately 20-25 minutes (12 minutes each side), or until browned on both sides.

Judith Montefiore’s Regency Croquettes

If you’d rather try your hand at Regency-era croquettes, this recipe is from Lady Judith Cohen Montefiore’s The Jewish Manual / Practical Information in Jewish and Modern Cookery with a Collection / of Valuable Recipes & Hints Relating to the Toilette (1846).

CROQUETTES. Pound any cold poultry, meat, or fish, make it into a delicate forcemeat; the flavor can be varied according to taste; minced mushrooms, herbs, parsley, grated lemon peel, are suitable for poultry and veal; minced anchovies should be used instead of mushrooms when the croquettes are made of fish. Form the mixture into balls or oval shapes the size of small eggs; dip them into beaten eggs, thickly sprinkle with bread crumbs or pounded vermicelli, and fry of a handsome brown.