Ashlee Aubin Credit: Julia Thiel

Gefilte fish—the traditional Passover dish of ground whitefish mixed with matzo meal, egg, vegetables, and seasonings—can be divisive, inspiring headlines like “Gefilte Fish: Is It Really That Bad?” and “Gefilte Fish: Why, Oy Why?” But until Adam Wendt of the Delta challenged Ashlee Aubin to create a dish with gefilte fish, the chef at Salero and Wood restaurants had tried only homemade versions, which he thought were pretty good. Wendt, however, specified that Aubin had to use Manischewitz brand of gefilte fish in gelled broth, which turned out to be a very different beast.

“When you open the jar there’s some gray, murky-looking jellied liquid that gray fish meatballs are basically floating in,” Aubin says. “The flavor’s a little hard to describe, because it’s fishy but it’s not like a clean ocean- fish sort of flavor. It’s a little bit like cat food. The texture is soft, squishy, almost bouncy, like the mystery-meat meat loafs that were popular in the 80s.”

Traditionally, gefilte fish is served cold—for good reason, as Aubin discovered. The first thing he tried to do with it was make a brandade: gefilte fish pureed with potatoes, garlic, and cream and then baked. “That was one of the worst things I’ve ever tasted in my life,” Aubin says. “I couldn’t get the flavor out of my mouth for hours. A shot of tequila—nothing would stop it.” Then he made tempura-fried gefilte fish. “Everything’s good fried, but not gefilte fish,” he says. After other experiments that included sauteing the ingredient, Aubin concluded that gefilte fish should not be served hot. “Even cut with something like potato, the flavor is ten times more intense when you heat it up,” he says.

Instead, Aubin turned to tuna salad for inspiration. He took both regular gefilte fish and a version that he’d pickled, chopped them up, and tossed in crunchy vegetables: snap peas, cucumber, and red onion. An herbed creme fraiche dressing not only added flavor but covered up the color of the fish, Aubin said. He garnished the salad with sliced radishes, purslane, dill flowers, and fried hominy. “I always like corn in tuna salad,” he says. He also used another fried element to introduce even more fish flavor: halibut chicharrones (halibut skin that he simmered, dehydrated, and deep-fried). Aubin opted not to use the jellied broth that the fish balls were packed in, but he did make his own gel from tomato water and horseradish for a “fresh, sharp” element.

Ashlee Aubin, chef at Salero and Wood restaurants, turned to tuna salad for inspiration.Credit: Julia Thiel

The result, Aubin says, tastes mostly like vegetables and horseradish, with “a distinct seafood flavor at the end.” He adds that, while the dish actually tastes pretty good, “it’s definitely not ever going on one of my menus.”

Who’s next:
Aubin has challenged Stephen Hasson of Ugo’s Kitchen & Bar to create a dish with Manischewitz Concord Grape wine, continuing the Manischewitz theme.