British-style fried gefilte fish for Rosh Hashanah  with (clockwise from top left) English mustard, beet horseradish and pickled red onion. (Photo/Faith Kramer)
British-style fried gefilte fish for Rosh Hashanah with (clockwise from top left) English mustard, beet horseradish and pickled red onion. (Photo/Faith Kramer)

Start the New Year like a British Jew with fried cod gefilte fish and hard-cider apple cake

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.

I’ll be spending Rosh Hashanah in London, so I’m investigating British Jewish food for my holiday table this year.

After poking around bakeries, supermarkets, fish stores and butcher shops in several London Jewish neighborhoods, I reached out to local mavens.

Helen Goldrein, who runs the popular kosher blog Family Friends Food, shared her take on apple and honey cake for the High Holidays. This moist, dense cake is packed with flavor and is based on a recipe from southwest England that uses local hard cider.

“I gave this recipe a little Jewish twist for Rosh Hashanah by introducing a honey crumble topping, so it has the classic pairing of apples and honey,” Goldrein said. “Like everywhere else that Jews have settled, Jews in Britain have adopted and adapted certain local ingredients and dishes to fit in with kosher laws and traditional family recipes.”

One home cook helped me explore London’s kosher food scene and shared her grandmother’s recipe for fried gefilte fish (often called “chopped and fried fish”), which was written down in a little book of family favorites. Her family came to England from Poland and adopted the British style of frying instead of poaching the gefilte fish and of using flaky white saltwater fish instead of the traditional freshwater varieties such as carp, pike or whitefish.

“Carp is not really eaten in Britain,” Goldrein said, “but we have a lot of coast, and sea fish is readily available. British gefilte fish is usually made with cod, hake or haddock or a mixture, and it has a very different texture to gefilte fish made with carp.”

Why do the British fry their gefilte fish? I haven’t found a definitive answer. Perhaps it has to do with the arrival of Sephardic Jews in the 17th century who enjoyed cold fried fish for Shabbat lunch. Or it could be due to the British taste for fried fish in general.

Whatever the reason, using ocean fish and frying it instead of poaching it in fish stock results in a milder tasting gefilte fish, particularly when compared with the ones in jellied broth from a jar. Fried gefilte fish can be topped with horseradish, or you can try some of the alternative toppings I suggest below.

Apple cider and honey cake for Rosh Hashanah (Photo/Faith Kramer)
Apple cider and honey cake for Rosh Hashanah (Photo/Faith Kramer)

Helen Goldrein’s Apple, Cider and Honey Cake

Serves 6-8

Adapted and used with permission from Family Friends Food.

Honey Crumble Topping (see recipe below)

  • 2-3 medium large Granny Smith, Braeburn or Jonagold apples (about 12 oz. total)
  • ½ cup plus 1 Tbs. alcoholic (hard) apple cider
  • ½ cup margarine or unsalted butter (see notes), room temperature
  • ½ cup plus 1½ tsp. regular or unrefined sugar (see notes)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1¾ cup plus 1 Tbs. flour
  • 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice mix
  • 1½ tsp. baking powder

Honey Crumb Topping

  • ¼ cup margarine or unsalted butter, melted
  • 4 Tbs. honey
  • 1 cup plus 3 Tbs. flour

For the topping, whisk together melted margarine and honey. Stir in flour until stiff dough forms. Let cool.

For the cake, prepare a deep 8-inch round removable bottom or springform cake pan. Line bottom with parchment paper. (If it’s necessary to use a pan without a removable bottom, choose one that is at least 2½ inches deep, line bottom with parchment paper, lightly grease paper and sides with margarine, butter or oil, and then dust with flour.)

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Remove and discard cores from apples. Peeling is optional. Chop into ¼-inch pieces. Place in bowl. Pour cider over apples. Let sit, stirring occasionally.

In a large mixing bowl, use an electric hand or stand mixer on high to cream margarine with sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time and 1 Tbs. flour as the eggs are mixed in.

Add the rest of flour, pumpkin pie spice and baking powder. Mix well. Strain the apples, saving the cider. Add the cider to the bowl and beat in until the batter is soft and creamy. Stir in the chopped apples and mix until evenly distributed throughout. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan.

Crumble topping by hand and sprinkle evenly over batter.

Place on middle rack of oven. Bake for 45-55 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Keep an eye on the top of the cake. If crumbs appear to be browning too quickly, cover top of pan loosely with aluminum foil. (Remove foil 5-10 minutes before end of baking time.)

Remove from oven. Cool 20 minutes before removing from pan and moving cake to wire rack. Allow to cool completely before serving.

Notes: If using unsalted butter in cake recipe, add ¼ tsp. salt with baking powder. Goldrein uses unrefined (called golden in the U.K.) sugar.


British-Style Fried Gefilte Fish

Makes 24 minis, 12 balls or 8 patties

  • 1 lb. skinless white fish filet such as cod, haddock or hake (or a combination)
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 Tbs. minced garlic
  • 1 Tbs. sugar or as desired (see notes)
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. ground black pepper
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • ½ cup matzah meal, plus more as needed
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • Horseradish, English-style mustard, pickled red onions (see notes), harissa or other hot sauce for toppings

If using a food processor, cut fish and onion into large chunks and process until very finely minced, scraping bowl as necessary. Transfer to a large bowl. (If chopping by hand with a knife, finely mince fish and then onion and combine in large bowl.)

Mix in garlic, sugar, salt, pepper, and eggs. Blend well. Stir in matzah meal. Try making a 1-inch ball. The mixture should hold its shape. If it’s too loose, add matzah meal by the tablespoon as needed. If the mixture is too dry, add water by the teaspoon. Let sit for 10 minutes. (If desired, check for seasoning by frying a bit of batter and tasting. Adjust salt, pepper and sugar as desired before forming balls or patties.)

Wet hands with cold water. Roll mixture into balls about 1 inch in diameter for mini gefilte fish balls or 2 inches in diameter for regular size gefilte fish balls. For patties, roll into 3-inch balls and flatten. Compact the balls and patties slightly with your hands to keep them from falling apart while frying.

Heat 2 inches of vegetable oil over medium-high heat in a deep saucepan 8-10 inches in diameter. Oil should be at 360-375 degrees. A bit of the fish mixture dropped into the oil should be immediately surrounded by bubbles and rise quickly to the surface.

Do not crowd the saucepan, and be sure oil has gotten back to temperature between batches or after adding more oil if needed. Adjust heat up or down if the gefilte fish is turning dark too soon or not browning quickly enough.

Once the gefilte fish balls or patties are in the oil, use heat-proof tongs or slotted spoon to turn occasionally. Fry minis about 3 minutes. Fry regular balls and patties about 4 minutes. Drain on plate lined with paper towels. (Cut into the first one to make sure it is cooked through. Adjust timing as needed.)

Serve warm, at room temperature or cold with toppings of choice. Gefilte fish can be made 3 days ahead, wrapped airtight and stored in refrigerator. Serve cold or bring to room temperature. To reheat, place room temperature gefilte fish on ungreased baking sheet in 350-degree oven until warmed through, about 8-10 minutes.

Notes: To make this like my source’s family did, omit garlic, reduce salt and pepper by half and increase sugar to ⅓ cup. For quick and flavorful pickled red onions, I used this recipe from an earlier column.

Faith Kramer
Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer and the author of “52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen.” Her website is faithkramer.com. Contact her at [email protected].