Yesterday we had our annual holiday open house here at the Center, and faculty came from all across campus to enjoy a variety of treats. I’d say it was pretty successful, in that we saw a number of faculty who haven’t darkened our door way for a good long while, which is the whole point this exercise in hospitality. Credit my boss who made the morning rounds inviting all the academic departments.
Some people wondered how it was that a gentile like myself ended up bring gefilte fish to the party. The answer is a bit convoluted. We have to go back to our open house three years ago, when my brandy balls were upstaged by my boss’s husband’s bigger bourbon balls. Ever since then I’ve been plotting my revenge, trying to figure how I could bring the ultimate dish — balls that would admit no answer.
At our last staff meeting, it dawned on me that fish balls would make a pretty strong statement. I found a bunch of recipes, mostly for Asian-style dishes that are served hot. That would present logistical problems, besides which cold fish balls would be much more impressive. A net search on this phrase led me to recipes for gefilte fish, which are essentially chopped fish balls, typically served cold. I like pickled herring so I figured I might like gefilte. I believe they are more traditional at Passover, but none of my co-workers here at the Center are Jewish, so I figured they wouldn’t know any better. I consulted Liprap just to make sure that serving gefilte fish during Chanukah wouldn’t be considered offensive.
Liprap also advised me that I could buy commercially prepared gefilte fish at any local grocery. Awesome, that saved me the trouble of actually cooking it myself. Nevertheless I tried to pass it off as homemade. I printed out a recipe and put it on the table beside the gefilte — which I served in a nice ceramic dish. Alas, one of our guests asked me directly, “Did you make this yourself?” I’d pretty much fooled my co-workers up to that point, but I couldn’t tell a brazen lie, so my ruse was revealed.
For the first part of the day, my fish balls were mocked and reviled. My co-workers were in fact openly revolted by the very sight of the dish, to say nothing of the aroma. I actually felt sorry for the very first person who sampled the gefilte (Jason from Philosophy) as it was clear he was not enjoying it; I told him he didn’t have to finish it, and he was plainly relieved.
Then I had to try one myself. I pride myself on trying new things, but I must confess I found it challenging. I choked the whole thing down, however. They’re quite large. The horseradish definitely helped.
Not everyone was so squeamish. Late in the day, we had a run on the fish balls, with no fewer than four faculty of diverse backgrounds apparently relishing the dish. Two of these folks may or may not have been Jewish, but the other two definitely were not. A Japanese teacher raved about how much she liked them. Most intriguing to me was the Muslim historian who wolfed down a fish ball and then went back for seconds.
When our open house was over, I felt validated. The gefilte fish was a source of intrigue and humor all day long. I don’t think I will ever eat it again — at least I hope not — though I have to admit this recipe for salmon gefilte looks intriguing.
How will I top this? Next year, I’ll probably have to take Frank’s advice from 2007 and make spotted dick.