My paternal grandmother, Bobe, used to make two kinds of gefilte fish every Friday: white or traditional and red or a la Veracruzana. The moment you sat down, she made you choose, “which do you want mamele, white or red?”
Invariably, after you chose, she’d ask, “you don’t like the way I make the other one?”
She’d barge in, make room on your plate and serve you the kind you hadn’t picked, right next to the one you had chosen. She’d wait for you to taste it and tell her how good the one you hadn’t chosen was. Then, she would eat right off your plate.
Having come from tiny shtetls in the polish countryside, both her and my grandfather arrived in Mexico so very young. Mexico gave them an opportunity to start a life away from pogroms.
They worked hard and made a simple but good life for themselves. Though they were humble, and without much savings, every Friday they had a bountiful table full of food for their three grown children and their families – all together there were ten granddaughters. Nope. Not a single grandson!
Mexico also brought so many flavors to Bobe’s traditional foods. At the table there was petchah (chicken foot jelly!) that could be garnished with a salsa verde cruda, gribenes (chicken cracklings) tucked into warm corn tortillas and a heaping spoonful of fresh guacamole, the crispiest potato kugel, a stew that always had falling apart meat and a soupy prune or carrot tzimes. To finish, it was her prized chocolate babka spiked with Mexican canela.
Yet, nothing beat her Mexican-style gefilte fish, aka the red one.
The red is different from the white in so many ways. The white, or traditional, is made by combining ground fish filets, white onion, carrots, eggs and matzo meal and shaping them into patties that are poached in a stock made with the head, tail, and bones of the fish. It is refrigerated, covered with this same fish stock, which turns gelatinous as it cools (a delicacy if you have the acquired taste!). It is served cold. The red has the same fish mixture, but it is poached in a thick and spiced up tomato sauce enriched with capers, green olives and mild pickled peppers. It is served hot. Everyone in my family is wild about it.
The red sauce is called Veracruzana because it comes from the state of Veracruz, which geographically seems to embrace the Gulf of Mexico. The Veracruzana sauce is traditionally served over large fish, and its flavors showcase the intermarriage of Spanish and Mexican ingredients that took place throughout the years of Spanish colonization. It was through the port of Veracruz that most European immigrants came into Mexico, like my Bobe.
One hell of a cook she was, with her treasured jar of shmaltz in the refrigerator ready to be scooped out and used on almost anything. She was as generous in her cooking as she was in life. After my parents divorced, when I was an early teen, she would put money in my backpack or my jacket, without me noticing, every time I visited. She knew I didn’t want to take it, as she didn’t have any extra to give out.
I never had the chance to serve Veracruzana, the red gefilte fish, from my kitchen to my Bobe. She passed away, just a couple months ago, and oh man, I wish I had. She would have been so proud. She would have probably asked me, “why, mamele, you didn’t like the white?”
My gefilte fish will always be for you, Bobe. And just so you know, I always make the red and the white. I miss you so bad.
Mexican Style Gefilte Fish
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For the fish patties:
- 1 pound red snapper fillets no skin or bones
- 1 pound flounder fillets no skin or bones
- 1/2 white onion quartered, about 1/2 pound
- 2 carrots peeled and roughly chopped, about 1/4 pound
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 cup matzo meal
- 2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper or to taste
For the red sauce:
- 3 tablespoons safflower or corn oil
- 1/2 cup white onion chopped
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 3 cups fish broth or water
- 2 tablespoons ketchup
- 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt or to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper or to taste
- 1 cup manzanilla olives stuffed with pimientos
- 8 pepperoncini peppers in vinegar brine or more to taste, chiles güeros en escabeche
- 2 tablespoons capers
To prepare the fish patty mixture:
- Rinse the red snapper and flounder fillets under a thin stream of cool water. Slice into smaller pieces and place in the food processor. Pulse for 5-10 seconds until fish is finely chopped but hasn’t turned into a paste. Turn fish mixture into a large mixing bowl. Then place the onion, carrots, eggs, matzo meal, salt and white pepper into same bowl of the food processor. Process until smooth and turn into the fish mixture. Combine thoroughly.
To prepare the red sauce:
- Heat the oil in a large cooking pot over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion, and let it cook for 5-6 minutes, stirring, until soft and translucent. Pour the crushed tomatoes into the pot, stir, and let the mix season and thicken for about 6 minutes. Incorporate 3 cups water, 2 tablespoons ketchup, salt and white pepper. Give it a good stir and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and bring sauce to a gentle simmer. Continue to simmer while you roll the gefilte fish patties.
- Place a small bowl with lukewarm water to the side of the simmering tomato broth. Start making the patties. I like to make them about 3” long, 2” wide and 1” high, in oval shapes. Wet your hands as necessary, so the fish mixture will not stick to your hands. As you make them, gently slide each patty into the simmering broth. Make sure it is simmering and raise the heat to medium if necessary to keep a steady simmer.
- Once you finish making the patties, cover the pot and bring the heat to low. Cook them covered for 25 minutes. Take off the lid, incorporate the manzanilla olives, pepperoncini peppers and capers. Give it a gentle stir and simmer uncovered for 20 more minutes, so the gefilte fish will be thoroughly cooked and the broth will have seasoned and thickened nicely.
- Serve hot with slices of challah and pickles.
56comments inDo You Want it Red or White? Mexican Style Gefilte Fish
My grandmothers and my mom weren’t/aren’t really cooks but I love this story.
Thanks so much Alan!
Elisheva Bat Emmanuel
With all respect to your Bobe, I prefer this recipe to every other gefilte fish recipe I have ever had (including my own Bobe’s). I make it year round. The family loves it. Thank you so much for sharing it!
זאָל זײַן אַ ברכה דער אָנדענק פֿון דײַן באָבע.
So glad to hear! Thanks so much for your kindness!
This is a Passover favorite in our house! Can this be made in advance and frozen?
Absolutely Allison, enjoy!
Hi Pati, I can’t believe you have a recipe for gefilte fish! My husband was born in Quetzaltenango, I’m from Brooklyn. I grew up with terrible Jewish cooking, my husband with tamales, tortillas and chili rellenos. The first time my mother gave him gefilte fish his face changed colors. To this day he visibly shudders. I’m going to surprise him with this recipe. Btw in the past 2 weeks I have made cowboy beans, chunky jalapeño salsa, pork tenderloin, Oaxacan chicken and pickled jalapeños. My husband is sooo happy! I guess I’m a pickled jalapeño gal too! Addicted! I love watching your tv show and love your cookbooks, thank you.
Thanks Ro for such a sweet message! Glad to know you have been trying so many of my recipes and you guys are enjoying them. Un abrazo
Jennifer C Oshiki
I’ve made your gefilte fish recipe twice and every time, after eating this,someone says that they will never eat packaged gefilte fish again. They love this recipe! I love this recipe! Thank you for sharing it with us.
Thanks so much to you and your friends Jennifer, you are the best 😉
I love the story of your Bobe…made me cry when you said you didn’t get to make it for her before she passed. So often the sacrifices of our parents, grandparents are stories of immigrants striving for a better life by leaving their homeland behind, and starting over in a foreign land. Their food tells many stories and pass on history to the future generations. Thank you for sharing. God Bless, Roberta XO
Thanks to you for reading and for your kindness Roberta, un abrazo!
excellent just as my bobe made it. It is delicious
So glad you like it Aaron 😉
I cannot wait to make your Mexican Style Gefiye Fish. I am of Polish/Filipino descent. Raised in a Jewish neighborhood. I love Gefilte Fish. Will try your red sauce. Looks yummy. Love your show and receipes. Now live in Florida and have access to all Mexican Products.
Thanks so much! I hope you like the Gefilte, enjoy 🙂
Aida Shalkow Phillips
Ay que rico! Mi Mami siempre hacia gefilte a la veracruzana, pero con esta cuarentena no se pudo para este Pesaj. Yo también soy de Mexico y vivo en Miami. Que bendición que conociste a tu Bobe, yo no conocí a ninguno de mis Bobes o Zeides, murieron antes que yo naciera. Y me hicieron mucha falta. Voy a tratar de hacer esta receta me encantan todas tus recetas. Espero estés muy bien. Jag Pesaj Sameaj!
Mil gracias Aida, me encanta cuando mis recetas traen lindos recuerdos a quienes las preparan, un abrazo!
Thank you, Pati! I am Jewish, and we are in the middle of Passover, in the middle of a pandemic lockdown, and I am so bored with my traditional Jewish-American recipes. I really wanted something with some Mexican tastes, and I thought of you and your recipes! I knew if anyone could make Jewish-Mexican recipes accessible, it would be you! Can’t wait to try this; our family loves Fish Veracruzana so I know this will be a hit! Your Bobe sounds like a better cook than my Bubbe, though! Gut Pesach!
Thanks so much Alice for your message, glad to hear I am contributing with new ideas for you. Stay healthy and safe 😉
This is a lovely recipe. Once I can freely buy ingredients I will try it for myself. I’m sure your Bobe oversees your kitchen every time you cook wherever you are. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you Marcella! I hope you’ll love this recipe as much as I do 😉
You are not just an excellent cook but a beautiful storyteller. Your story moved me to tears. While we lived in different places our beloved bubbies came from the same places and endured the identical plights yet in the end their cooking was magic!! I can still remember the tastes and smells.
Thank you dear Patti.
Aww thank you so much, Susan! And your bubbie sounds amazing, too. Hugs!
OMG so happy to see this recipe. I havent had homemade gefilte fish since my Mom passed many many years ago and as a younh adult then, i never made it but remembered ut so well. Knowing you are somewhat jewish I would love to see more related recipes identifying your jewishness. Thank you for this recipe, I may try it, you never know. Love love your shows.
Thank you Sara…we’ll try to post more so stay tuned.
I wondered why you had a recipe for gifted fish, and then read of your background. My father was a Shepardic Jew, so he and my paternal grandparents spoke Ladino, which as I am sure you know, is a Hebraiszed Spanish, spoken by the Jews who made it out of Spain before the Inquisition got to them in 1492. My father’s family ended up in Turkey, where the government welcomed them and actually celebrated the Jews being there fir 500 years in1992. How my last named got to be made European is a soap opera I don’t go into often. My dad married my very Irish Catholic mom, and had to agree to raise me Catholic. I still learned about my Judaism from my abuelito and my abuelita. I didn’t hear a word of Yiddish until I was in high school. 🙂 My grandmother used to make a pescado, and was wonderful enough to make it on Friday nights—–Just for me.
I love most of your recipes, but I am like you son who doesn’t like things too hot, so I tend to make things VERY mild and use the chili powders that are available. I am so grateful for you and your show. As a 74 year old retired nurse, your show is one I try not to ever miss, because it is so real and has so many wonderful recipes. My grandchildren think I am the best cook when I make something I have seen on your show. Thank you again for being there and bring so real Mexican light to TV.
This made my day, Louise! Thank you so much for your kind words!
Thank you for your enjoyable show and teaching your audience how to make your wonderful recipes.
Hola Pati,me gustan tus recetas y y la historia de Tu booby y lo del shtetl.SE de lo que estas hablando. Saludos Isaac
Oh my, Pati,
My heart gave a great leap reading that you have Jewish roots! I’m Mexican born/Chicago raised Mexicana converting to Judaism (my family is catholic) and I’m having the most difficult time blending the two to make peace in my home. Most of the ashkenazi food I’ve tried, well, it’s pleasant but a huge difference- a whole other world from Mexican food- much more subtle flavors. With this recipe, oh my goodness, something I would actually LOVE to eat and feel excited to serve at my first shabbat dinner. It’s something my family would be less hesitant to try because there is something familiar to the flavors and the dish. If you can recommend a source-book, website etc. apart from this one or your bobe’s favorite dishes (not the recipe I would never ask, just the idea behind the dish, haha) I would appreciate your help. So far I’ve worked with Israeli food and it’s delicious but still- not Mexican.
Thank you so very much for sharing this recipe and the small look into your family.
Hola Maria, Thank you for writing to me! Most of all, I encourage you to explore and experiment incorporating the Mexican flavors you grew up with into traditional Jewish recipes — make them your own. Here are a few more of my Jewish-Mexican recipes you can also try:
Potato, Sweet Potato and Granny Smith Latkes: http://patijinich.com/pati_2020/2013/11/potato-sweet-potato-and-granny-smith-latkes/
Chicken with Tamarind, Apricots and Chipotle Sauce: http://patijinich.com/pati_2020/2010/09/chicken_with_tamarind_apricots_and_chipotle_sauce/
Mushroom-Jalapeño Matzo Ball Soup: http://patijinich.com/pati_2020/2011/09/post_1/
Flourless Almond and Porto Cake: http://patijinich.com/pati_2020/2010/03/flourless_almond_cake/
Okay pati im watching your show right now, and this question came across my mind. have you ever eaten something that you don’t like? Like for example me i dont like seafood. that includes Chinese food. what do you do when you have a recipe and you don’t like one of the ingredients?
Pati, I just discovered you through one of the Public Television stations, in Miami. ¡Eres una chef de truenos! I am Cuban, married to a Jewish doctor for 36 years – who passed away in 2001 – and your story has brought tears to my eyes. One of my bisabuelas was yucateca, so I appreciate your cuisine from the Jewish and the Mexican perspective. I am sending this fantastic Mexican gefilte fish to my daughter, but my niece – also married to a Jewish husband – will love this because she’s Mexico mad. In fact, her doctorate on Latin American history was based on “las vírgenes de Puebla”… she’ll go crazy with this recipe. Thank you for sharing!
Thank you for passing it on, Mimi! That topic of Las Virgenes de Puebla sounds beyond fascinating to me.
What a beautiful story. A lot of my family from Poland went to Argentina before the war and a few that survived came here after the war like my Daddy.
I miss my Bubbe, Pa (Zeyde) , Mom and Daddy. Your story brought tears to my eyes but good tears.
Going to have our new traditional Costco Gefilte Fish, this year but one of these days…. I want to try The Red One!
Thank you for sharing your stories with us.
patti is simply amazing. she speaks so well and specifically…i wish the kids of today would learn to speak as well as patti. being a jewish gal – i’m not crazy about mexican food or cooking…but i tune into patti just to see her charisma and her charm when she speaks….she is the whole show!!!! she’s the show-stopper!!! eileen massi
Aw, gracias Eileen!
The Wifely Person
Watching the show this morning, and listening to you, I wanted to know more about you and the recipes…and realized you’re Jewish! The Veracruzanas put me over the edge! I can do this and get away from Rokeach gefilte fish! What a concept!
As my bubbie would’ve said, “Nunca es demasiado pronto para estar pensando en Pesach!”
Que su memoria de Bobe ser una bendición para su familia.
Just a beautiful story. Many condolences on your Bobe’s passing. What a cook she was! I have to say that I think this may be the recipe that FINALLY gets me to like gefilte fish. I’ve got to make it. I know my own Bubbe would be proud!
Thanks for your note Hilary, I really hope you try it and I trust you will like it!
The story of your grandmother made me smile. Very special memories that you have shared. Thank you.
That’s a cute story with the recipe. I like that. There was a story behind the recipe. I wish more people did that. Thanks for sharing.
Hi Mike, I’m so happy you liked my story! Thank you for reading it!!
Thank you for such a heart-warming story and a truly delicious recipe. My very own grandmother would have loved this as much as I. I didn’t have a choice, and to tell you the truth, I never liked the “white”! Again, thank you.
Thanks for your message, David ; )
Pati – you are so adorable and sweet. I love to watch your cooking show – I adore when you say “I am now going to cut an onion and I will tell you why…” Your English is so precise and lovely, you should have been an English Teacher. You can teach the kids of today how to speak!! I watch your show and I am fascinated just watching you prepare the food and cook. I am not familiar with Mexican food – (I am a jewish gal), but I love the looks of the salad that you made the other day – butter lettuce, avacados and prunes and potatoes, pumpkin seeds that pop. I am now going out to buy avacados and I will tell you why!!! That salad looked heavenly. Eileen Massi p.s. where do I buy grape seed oil and what is it mainly used for? thanks so much. Eileen.
You made me smile, Eileen! Thank you, and I hope you like everything you try from my show and blog. I like using grape seed oil (can buy it in many grocery stores!) for vinaigrettes, and I will tell you why, in an upcoming post….
Agree… I love it when she says, ” I don’t want to be pooooshy, but you must try this deesh at home. You must!”
She’s so cute and its a combo of precise English and song-songy delivery- so comforting & encouraging! It reminds me of my 1st teacher- Mrs. Katz. I’m not a great cook- but I adore Pati and her recipes are soooo yummy and not so fussy that a home cook wouldn’t give it a go. Plus she gives swaps for Mexican ingredients I can’t find. Love u Pati.
Great story and lovely little dish. Never really made Mexican style fish so will try this one. Thank you.