“Gefilte fish” is fish prepared in a traditional manner, a dish traditionally enjoyed by Ashkenazi Jews on Shabbat and Jewish holidays, served with a slice of carrot on top and often garnished with horseradish ("chrein").

In Yiddish, gefilte means “stuffed.” Originally, the recipe for gefilte fish called for the flesh of the fish to be removed from the skin, ground up and mixed with other ingredients such as eggs, spices, and ground onions and carrots. The mixture was then stuffed back into the skin, and cooked or baked. Nowadays, the gefilte fish mixture is usually not stuffed back into the skin, but the name remains. Gefilte fish can be bought ready-to-eat in jars, in frozen rolls—or you can prepare your own. Click here for some recipes.

Why Ground Fish

The laws of Shabbat prohibit removing bones from fish,1 making fish consumption a bit tricky. Boneless gefilte fish circumvents this problem. In addition, including all the additional ingredients in the ground fish stretched the amount, so that poor families would have enough for the entire household.

Why Fish on Shabbat?

  1. In the Torah’s account of the creation of the world, the word “blessing” is used three times. The first is regarding the creation of fish, the second regarding the creation of man, and the third regarding Shabbat. When a human eats fish on Shabbat, he is thus the beneficiary of a triple blessing.
  2. Each letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a gematria (numerical value). The letters of the Hebrew word for fish, dag, add up to seven. We therefore honor Shabbat, the seventh day of the week, by eating fish.
  3. At the time of the messianic redemption, there will be a feast at which the Leviathan, a giant fish, will be served. Shabbat, the day of rest, is a microcosm of the messianic era. As such, the fish we eat on Shabbat is in anticipation of the “day which will be a complete and perfect Shabbat.”
  4. Perhaps most importantly: eating fish is an integral part of oneg Shabbat—the obligation to enjoy and engage in pleasurable pursuits on Shabbat.

Easy Gefilte Fish Recipe


  • 4 pounds carp, ground
  • 2 carrots, or 1 medium raw beet, peeled and grated
  • 1 onion, ground
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons horseradish, white or red
  • 1 cooked egg, mashed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Basic fish sauce (recipe below)

Fish Sauce

  • Fish bones and heads, washed
  • 1 potato, peeled and sliced (optional)
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 1-3 teaspoons salt
  • 3 carrots, whole or sliced
  • 1-3 teaspoons sugar (optional)


Place all sauce ingredients in a large pot and fill one- third to one-half full of water. There should be enough water to cover the fish to be added later. Bring to a boil.

In blender whip up onion, eggs, and vegetables. Combine with ground fish and all seasonings. Mix well and set aside.

Prepare Basic Fish Sauce, (water, onions, carrots, celery, and seasonings to taste) and heat to boiling. Form fish mixture into balls (wet hands with cold water), and drop carefully into 8 quart pot one at a time. When broth returns to a boil, lower flame, cover and simmer for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, depending on size of balls.

Remove balls from liquid, arrange on a large serving platter with a slice of carrot on each, and pour on a bit of the sauce if you want an aspic. Chill. Yields 12-18 portions.