Gefilte Eomuk Bokkeum
By Ellie Reingold, UGA '22
All of my Jewish extended family lives in Texas. My mom was the only member of the family to move out of state, and stay there. As a result, aside from the couple of times a holiday serendipitously coincided with a school break, we never had the sort of giant extended family Seders, Hanukkah feasts, or Break-fasts that my Jewish friends had. No scenes of all the adults cooking from morning to sunset, some of them schmoozing and talking politics over wine, with the little kids getting underfoot. No spirited and raucous conversations over matzo ball soup – well, we did our best, but there’s only so much hullabaloo four people can get up to. No Uncle who gets a little too drunk, no Bubbe to tell us stories and lecture us on the importance of various prayers and rituals. No, our holidays are smaller affairs.
As I got older and started to take these occasions more seriously, I craved that sense of community and specialness. I invited my goy friends to Passover Seder, and occasionally we would luck out that some Jewish friends also had no extended family to visit and we’d force them to come over to our place. Mostly, I tried to create that holiday feel with food. I decided I would help my parents cook the holiday meals. I had never really cooked before, but I went ALL OUT. I would find six or seven different recipes for us to make – my dad handled the meat, my mom and I made the soup and vegetable dishes, and my sister would make dessert. WAY too much food for four people, but the important thing was that we were all in the kitchen from 10am to 6pm, cooking together, chatting, listening to NPR. Then we would sit down and enjoy the fruits of our labor, talk and laugh, play dreidel or find the afikomen.
Those huge holiday meals were what got me started cooking, which is now my favorite hobby and how I keep myself alive and healthy. From the start I’ve been drawn to the cuisines furthest from America – Korean, Thai, Chinese, and Indian are my favorites. I never much enjoyed regular American or European food, including unfortunately, most of Ashkenazi cuisine. Particularly gefilte fish. Gross. But, I am Jewish, and I couldn’t just not cook Jewish food. So I had to find a way to make it better. I Asian-ized it. Just a disclaimer, the following recipe is not a dish from the Korean Jewish community; this is fusion food, that refuge of bored white chefs who can’t credibly cook straight Chinese or Thai or what have you. It’s a version of Eomuk Bokkeum, a stir-fried fish cake dish from Korea, made with gefilte fish that’s been mashed up, doctored, and fried like latkes. The sauce, bell peppers and onions play up the sweetness of the gefilte fish, and the crispy outside of the cakes gives a really nice texture contrast. So it doesn’t feel like you’re eating brains. This is a great dish for any holiday, and it’s sure to get you suspicious and confused looks, then surprised exclamations of how good it is. Enjoy!
Gefilte Eomuk Bokkeum
1 standard 24-oz jar of gefilte fish
1 cup cilantro, finely chopped
4 large cloves of garlic, minced
2 eggs, beaten
5 tablespoons flour
¼ tsp gochugaru (red pepper powder) or chili flakes
3 green onions, finely chopped
3 tablespoons canola oil, plus more for frying
½ a red and ½ a yellow bell pepper, julienned
½ an onion, julienned
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine
4 teaspoons sugar 1 teaspoon minced garlic
Pinch of black pepper
1-2 tablespoons gochugaru (optional – if you like it spicy)
Discard the gefilte fish liquid and mash the fish up in a bowl. Add the cilantro, garlic, green onions, oil, eggs, and gochugaru, and mix it up. Add the flour a tablespoon at a time until it reaches a good consistency – it sticks together but doesn’t form a ball.
In a separate bowl, mix together the soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, garlic, black pepper, and gochugaru.
Heat a good amount of oil in a pan over medium-high heat – enough to fry latkes, like a centimeter deep. You can check if it’s hot enough by flicking a bit of batter in, and if it bubbles, it’s hot enough.
Add spoonfuls of the gefilte fish mixture into the pan, flattening them into latke-ish shapes. Fry until you can see browning on the edges, then flip them. You want to get them nice and brown on both sides, then take them out and place them on a paper towel lined plate.
Once all your gefilte fish has been fried into cakes, drain most of the oil from the pan (after it’s cooled down some)* so you just have enough left to coat the pan.
Bring the pan back up to medium-high heat and add the onions and bell peppers. Stir fry until the onions are translucent and softened.
Add the sauce, then quickly add in the fish cakes.
Carefully stir and flip the fishcakes around in the sauce and vegetables until the fishcakes have absorbed the sauce.
Turn off the heat and dish out onto a plate. You’re done!