Whitefish Salad

Whitefish salad on egg bagel with lox, cream cheese, and sliced onion

The term “whitefish” refers to several species of freshwater fish that are commonly used in Ashkenazi Jewish cooking. These inexpensive and versatile fish are used for a number of purposes– they can be poached for Shabbat, ground into gefilte fish, and smoked. Whitefish is sold as either a whole fish or a fillet cut. It can be found in most Jewish delis, kosher markets, and “appetizing” stores like New York’s famous Russ and Daughters.

Antique illustration of a whitefish

Smoke-curing is one of the most ancient methods of food preservation. When smoke-curing fish, the fish is dried and salted to remove all moisture (moisture creates a breeding ground for bacteria). It is then exposed to smoke, another element that slows down bacterial growth. The smoke combined with the salt creates a unique flavor that has become synonymous with Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine. The process of smoking whitefish was adopted by Eastern European Ashkenazi Jews; smoked fish was stored and eaten throughout the long, harsh winter season. Smoked whitefish was later brought to the U.S. during a mass Jewish immigration that began in the late 1800′s. American Jews found an abundant source of whitefish in the Great Lakes of the northeast. Much of the smoked whitefish sold today comes from the Great Lakes. Modern smoked fish is less salty and pungent than smoke-cured fish; we now have refrigerators, so fish is smoked and salted for flavor more than preservation purposes. That makes for a more delicate, moist, and softer fish with a truly delightful flavor.

Whitefish stuffed tomato with sliced persian cucumbers

Removing the meat from a whitefish is a little more work than opening a can of tuna fish, but the flavor is so much more complex. It takes me about 10 minutes to get the meat off the fish, deboned, and into the mixing bowl. If it’s already filleted, that makes things even easier. I don’t add a lot of extra ingredients to the salad, except for a few fresh herbs and some lemon juice; the smoking imparts a lot of flavor and doesn’t need much “dressing up.” I usually use a mixture of mayonnaise and sour cream in the salad, but you can substitute all mayo to make the dish pareve. You can also add a little minced onion in there for spice, if you wish. Make sure you taste and season accordingly; don’t add salt until you taste, since the smoked fish has a lot of salt in it already.

By the way… the cheapest place I’ve found whole whitefish is at my local kosher market, where a 2 pound fish sells for around $16. A few months ago, they tried to sell me the same sized fish at a local deli for $54. I told them thanks, but no thanks! Smoked whitefish shouldn’t be pricey, it’s not an expensive fish to begin with. So don’t let anybody charge you more than $10 per pound, unless you’re in an area where there aren’t too many kosher markets or delis. If you are, you might have to pay a premium to an appetizing store or gourmet market to have it shipped.

Whitefish on rye cracker with half-sour pickle slices.

I’ve posted some serving suggestions below this recipe. The salad can be made gluten free using certified GF mayo and sour cream. Whitefish salad makes a great appetizer spread– serve it atop rye crackers or pumpernickel bread for a dainty treat. Or, make a meal out of it and create a bagel sandwich layered with cream cheese, lox, thinly sliced onion and whitefish on top. Goes great with a hot bowl of deli-style soup like split pea or my Mushroom Barley Soup. The perfect winter meal. Bete’avon!

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Whitefish Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 lb. whole or filleted smoked whitefish
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup lowfat sour cream (or sub 1/3 cup additional mayo)
  • 1/2 cup minced celery stalks
  • 2 tbsp fresh minced dill
  • 2 tbsp fresh minced chives
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste (1-2 lemons)
Total Time: 30 Minutes
Servings: 6-8 servings
Kosher Key: Dairy or pareve (use all mayonnaise for pareve)
  • Purchase a whole smoked whitefish of about 2 lbs. Smoked whitefish can be found at kosher markets or your local deli.
  • If you purchased fillets, remove the skin, then skip ahead in the directions to where it says "When the fish is cleaned..."
  • Peel the skin from the whitefish. It should come off easily, like paper. On each side of the fish, you will see a center line running from tail to gill. Using a fork, pull the meat outward from that center line, following the diagonal grain of the meat. Pulling the meat from the bones in this way will help you avoid the tiny bones that are sometimes caught in the meat.
  • Place the meat in a pile beside the fish.
  • When the fish is cleaned, flake the meat in small pieces into a mixing bowl, checking for bones with your fingers as you go. If you notice any bones, remove them and discard.
  • Once the meat is in the bowl, shred it with a fork and your fingers. Remove any additional bones you might have missed.
  • Add mayonnaise, sour cream, celery pieces, dill, and chives to the whitefish and use the fork to blend. Season the salad with pepper and fresh lemon juice to taste. I usually don't add any additional salt, since the meat is quite salty, but you can add some if you feel the salad needs it. Also, I like a lot of lemon juice in this salad-- I usually squeeze the juice of 1 whole lemon in, at least.
  • Serve atop rye bread, bagels, vegetable crudites, crackers, or however you wish-- get creative! Here are some serving suggestions:
  • Stuffed Tomato: Core a fresh tomato and scoop out the seeds/pulp. Fill the tomato with whitefish salad. Garnish with fresh dill and serve with sliced Persian cucumbers. This serving suggestion is low carb and gluten free. You can also stuff half an avocado instead of a tomato, if you prefer.
  • Whitefish Appetizer: Spread whitefish salad onto a cracker made from rye or your favorite whole grain. Garnish with two half-sour pickle slices and fresh dill. This makes a great appetizer, or serve with a bowl of soup or salad for a light lunch.
  • Whitefish Bagel Supreme: Toast your favorite flavored bagel. Spread half of the bagel liberally with cream cheese. Add a few slices of lox and some thinly sliced onions. Top with a scoop of whitefish salad. Serve open-faced topped garnished with fresh chives. Or, to make a more filling meal, close the sandwich with the other bagel portion and slice the sandwich in half.

Comments (33)Post a Comment

  1. looks wonderful. When I wasstationed in Germany I had a small store I went to that had opened up inside a section that sold only smoked fish. It gave me an opportunity to try a variety of different fish (to include eel, river and sea).Many of them are really good and have a lot of flavour. Thank you for this good recipe.

  2. Oh how I miss smoked whitefish. In my neighborhood in Chicago I used to be able to buy it at the supermarket. Now the closest place to get it is Phoenix and that’s 300 miles away.

    1. Karen – We sell smoked whitefish Whole, fileted, and chunks for far less than that price. We are located in Kenosha, Wi just 60 miles north of Chicago. 262-654-9922 ask for JIM

    2. I used to order (whole) smoked whitefish online from companies around the Great Lakes and hated paying $75.00 shipping charge for 3 lbs of fish (which only cost about $25.00)! Finally, a local friend turned to me on to Costco. They sell it for $7.89 a pound (as of Sept 2012) – item# 33154. It is an in-store item only (they don’t offer it online) and vacuum packed; and Costco also sells Lox! No I do not work for Costco – but I go there for my Whitefish and Lox, every year to break the fast for Yom Kippur. Good luck!

  3. Thank you for the childhood memories. Okay, NOW I’m starving! Hmmmm, and no whitefish to be had in my little desert town, guess my memories will have to get me through.

    1. My problem as well! I used a tin of kippered herring with some baked cod. I threw in a handful of frozen peas.

  4. To Karen G…my daughter goes to college at Northwestern in Evanston. They have a Whole Foods there. I don’t know if there is a Whole Foods closer to you, but I am sure they must carry smoked white fish. : )

    1. They didn’t when I recently lived there – surprisingly, good deli was hard to find. Fox and Obel downtown had a great selection, but for amazing smoked fish you have to drive out to link to hagensfishmarket.com , though I see getting the link that they also participate in a delivery service now! Amazing fish. Try the sable.

  5. Also, I have a great recipe for smoked whitefish gefilte fish. The recipe came from Epicurious and it is delicious! Just thought I would share!

    Gefilte fish

    3/4 cup thinly sliced peeled carrots
    1/4 cup matzo meal
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    1 cup chopped onion
    1 cup chopped green onions
    4 large eggs
    1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

    1 1/2 pounds mild white fish fillets (such as sole or flounder), cut into small pieces
    2 cups flaked smoked whitefish (about 8 ounces), carefully boned
    3/4 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

    1 large cabbage, separated into leaves

    Sauce
    2 garlic cloves
    1/4 cup prepared white horseradish
    2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
    1 cup mayonnaise

    Butter lettuce leaves
    print a shopping list for this recipe

    preparation

    For gefilte fish:
    Cook carrots in pan of boiling salted water until very tender, about 8 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup cooking water in small bowl. Stir matzo meal into water; let stand 10 minutes. Place carrots in processor. Heat olive oil in heavy medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add green onions and stir 1 minute. Add onion mixture to carrots in processor. Add matzo meal mixture; blend until mixture is pureed and smooth. Using electric mixer, beat 3 eggs and lemon juice in large bowl until foamy and slightly thickened, about 4 minutes. Stir in mixture from processor; do not clean processor bowl.
    Blend fish fillets, smoked fish, salt, and pepper in same processor bowl until fish is finely chopped. Add remaining egg and blend to coarse paste. Add fish mixture to matzo meal mixture and mix thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate until very cold, about 2 hours.
    Line large baking sheet with waxed paper. Using wet hands, shape 1/4 cup fish mixture for each dumpling into egg-shaped oval. Place on prepared sheet. Cover with waxed paper and chill while preparing cabbage and steamer.
    Set vegetable steamer rack in large pot. Fill pot with enough water to meet, but not cover, bottom of rack. Line rack with cabbage leaves. Arrange 8 fish dumplings on leaves; cover with additional cabbage. Bring water to boil. Cover pot and steam dumplings until cooked through and firm to touch, about 25 minutes. Transfer upper cabbage leaves to platter. Top with cooked dumplings. Cover with bottom cabbage leaves. Steam remaining dumplings in additional cabbage leaves in 2 more batches. Cover and refrigerate gefilte fish until cold, at least 6 hours. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.)
    For sauce:
    Push garlic through garlic press into small bowl or mince garlic and place in small bowl. Mix in horseradish and lemon juice. Gradually whisk in mayonnaise. Season sauce with salt and pepper. Cover; chill up to 1 day.
    Line plates with lettuce leaves. Arrange 1 or 2 fish dumplings on each. Spoon lemon-horseradish sauce alongside.

  6. Karen G. I am sooooo confused. Are you in Chicago or Phoenix? Because each place, darling, should be swimming in delis and supermarkets (kosher and non). I will be so happy to assist you at least with the Chicago area in your quest. You sound like my brother who lives in NY state in a very small near the mountains. Not even a bagel to be had. When he visits “Home” he has to take back care packages on dry ice from his favorite spots. It can be done……..

  7. Whitefish salad is my absolute favorite kind of “appetizing.” The bagel place near my mother’s house on Long Island makes excellent whitefish salad – whenever I visit that’s my first stop. It’s hard to find good whitefish salad in Los Angeles. Costco has one brand that’s not bad…but it’s not like New York.

  8. This is one of my favorite things in the world. Luckily, I grew up in Brooklyn, where it was widely available. I now live in NJ, and work in NY so can get my fix whenever I like. However, I never once considered making it from scratch, so thanks so much for posting the recipe! This would be a nice treat to make for the members of my family that appreciate fish dishes.

  9. I have a jar of Mother’s All Whitefish in juice. We tasted one piece and didn’t like it. I was wondering if I could turn these little fish “patties” into something else like that Whitefish Salad that you made out of smoked white fish. Can I do that with the stuff in the jar?

    1. I always re-cook the jarred gefilte fish. I place sliced carrots, celery and onion in the bottom of a large dutch oven. Cover with the jarred fish (usually 6 pieces to the jar). Pour in the “juice” from the jar. Then fill the jar 1/3 full with hot water, add 1/2 Cup sugar to the water to dissolve it. Pour over fish and simmer all till carrots are tender – 20 to 30 minutes. Chill and serve with horseradish.

  10. Check, double check & triple check for bones! A few years back when I made whitefish salad a bone got stuck in my husband’s throat! He didn’t realize at first and was clearing his throat all day. Finally he went to an ENT doctor & he looked down his throat & pulled out the bone with a tweezer. He asked if he had eaten whitefish!!!!!

  11. I loved eating smoked whitefish directly from the fish, so to speak, as a kid. Since there are no delis to speak of around here in my area of Colorado, it’s been a while since I had any. Instead, I smoke the trout my husband catches – really delicious.

  12. I live on Long Island, born New Yorker. Just finished making whitefish salad. Not difficult. Save your lox for another bagel, another time.

  13. Happy childhood days in Chicago. We add capers though. It was Friday supper since as a Catholic couldn’t eat meat on Friday. It is wonderful with boiled potatoes and sour cream.

  14. Here is a site you might be interested in,last year I orderd from him and loved it,I think the price is very good, I used to order from a different place in Wisconson at twice the price, Charlie will let you substitue if you only want whitefish,trout or Salmon. http://www.charliessmokehouse.com
    Have not gotten any this year as we have finally gotten a freshmarket and they carry it year round,plus at this time of year Costco also carries it.

  15. I just bought my first whitefish at CostCo and found this site while looking up recipes. We’re trying to stop eating so much tuna because of the mercury. CostCo has a smoked salmon that we love from The Honey Smoked Fish Company and, this week I noticed the whitefish stacked beside it and decided to have an adventure. I’ve never had whitefish – only read about it in novels. So, I made a salad tonight and it was just fine! We ate it on some homemade crackers with yellow tomatoes and sliced red peppers. Thanks!

  16. So I gad whitefish salad almost 10 years ago at a friend s family members funeral. It was delicious and recently I’ve wanted it aftrr 10 years. Followed recipe above and added boiled eggs. Taste delicious!!

  17. I have no idea where to buy whitefish. I don’t think we have kosher markets anymore in Toledo. We used to.

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