Jennifer Felmley is a nutritionist, chef, and cooking teacher with an infectious laugh who lives in San Diego. We talked to this culinary historian about Jewish cuisine and one of its most infamous components: Gefilte fish. She provides an upscale recipe for the stuff – gelatin included – below.
Why do you think Jewish food’s popularity is waning these days?
Well, traditional Jewish food is made with cheap ingredients, like brisket and whitefish, that are difficult to prepare and not as delicious as more expensive, and often fresher, food.
How do you modernize old recipes and make them more appealing?
I try to take traditional Eastern European food that we grew up with back to its roots by using the freshest ingredients. When immigrants came to the U.S., they had to make do with canned products and poorer qualities of meat. I try to keep things as fresh and clean as possible.
Why has gefilte fish gotten such a bad rap?
Many people, when they think of gefilte fish, think of a ball of fish suspended in goo. Not delicious. The dish came from Germany and was a small dumpling cooked in liquid. When the fish sits for a while in its stock, the collagen and protein from the fish gelatinize, which keeps it fresh, but also has a gross texture.
Tell me about your recipe.
The first time I made the salmon gefilte fish recipe, I thought “Oh, I’m so special!” But when I got to the fishmonger’s at the crack of dawn in L.A., there were these chichi ladies from Beverly Hills and private chefs buying salmon for their gefilte fish.
How do you serve it?
My grand-aunt made her herb sauce, which I tweaked a little bit. Adding fresh herbs is the way it was traditionally done. I also do a horseradish and sour cream sauce with lemon.
Do you prepare it often?
You know, I’d make it as part of my last meal [before fasting] if I could. When I do it for Passover, I make mountains of it, and I eat it for days afterwards.
How does being Jewish affect your cooking?
I’m the Martha Stewart of Judaism. I’m not going to sit at home and study Torah, but I will cook a huge meal for all my friends and family. I love Passover. I prepare for days. For the first few years I did it, I made the whole meal completely kosher, but it’s gotten so big, with over 50 people, it just got too expensive.