Cooking fish in water not only produces a moist, tender flesh, but imparts the fish’s gelatin into the cooking liquid, thereby, gelling it. Variations of this widespread dish can be found on Sabbath tables from France to Russia as well as in many Sephardic communities where it is called jelatine di pescado or pichtee. In Alsace, the various versions of carpe a la Juive have become part of the cooking repertoire of the non-Jews of the area. Rich-flavored carp was the favored fish for this dish by Ashkenazim and gelatinous striped bass by Sephardim, but any firm-fleshed fish, even salmon or trout, can be used. Sephardic versions always incorporate a little lemon juice, partly for flavor and partly as a preservative. Since lemons were generally scarce in most parts of Europe, Ashkenazim usually use vinegar. In the medieval Teutonic mode, the vinegar is counterbalanced with sweet ingredients.
- About 4 lbs. fillets or 6 to 8 (1-inch thick) steaks, such as carp, cod, haddock, halibut, pike, striped bass, whitefish, or other firm-fleshed fish
- About 4 cups water
- ½ cup wine or cider vinegar
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ¼ to ½ cup raisins
- 3 medium onions, sliced (about 2¼ cups, 12 oz.)
- 2 medium carrots, sliced
- 3 to 4 whole cloves
- 2 bay leaves
- About 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon whole peppercorns
- 5 to 6 gingersnaps, crumbled
- In a large skillet or saucepan, place enough water to cover the fish. Add the fish head and tail, vinegar, sugar, raisins, onions, carrots, bay leaves, salt, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Add the fish and return to boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the fish is tender (about 20 minutes for fillets; about 40 minutes for steaks). Remove the fish and strain the cooking liquid, reserving the carrots and onion slices for a garnish.
- Add the ginger snaps to the cooking liquid and simmer until thickened. Pour the liquid over the fish and chill.