One unexpected victim of February’s record cold is gefilte fish. The traditional Passover appetizer is made from ground whitefish, carp and yellow pike. All three are freshwater fish from the Upper Midwest, and all three are in short supply this spring because the Great Lakes are still covered with ice.
Passover starts at sundown on Friday, April 3, and home cooks who plan to make their own gefilte fish are beginning the laborious process of gathering the fish, grinding and blending them, then forming, poaching and chilling the fish cakes.
Kevin Holton, partner at Two Cousins Fish Market on the Nautical Mile in Freeport, said that he’s been able to get his hands on the gefilte-destined fish because he’s a regular customer of the wholesalers at the Fulton Fish Market who deal in it. But supplies are limited, “down around 35 percent,” he figured. On a Friday afternoon he still had whitefish ($6.99 a pound) and carp ($2.99 a pound), but yellow pike was sold out. He’ll be at the fish market before dawn on Monday, though. “We try to go every night,” he said. “We’ll get what we can, and it’ll be first-come, first-served.”
Marine Fisheries in Great Neck will start stocking the gefilte trinity next week, but a representative said that “people who haven’t pre-ordered it won’t get it.”
“Carp isn’t such a big problem this year,” said Glenn Kaggen of Jericho, a third-generation fish wholesaler and owner of Classic Bay Seafood Inc. “It can come from warmer waters, or it can be fished through the ice. But whitefish and pike — big problem.” Kaggen said that this winter, 96 percent of the Great Lakes froze over, and there are still ice floes in the water. “Even though it’s opened up a little,” he said, “fishermen are afraid to set their nets. If the ice shifts in the wind, their nets are going to tear.”
Kaggen pointed out that it is home cooks who are hardest hit by the shortage. Commercial gefilte fish makers such as Manischewitz (which owns Rokeach, Mother’s and Mrs. Adler’s) have the option of using other fish such as freshwater mullet or bighead carp. Or they can buy their fish at any time and freeze it. .
“This is always a problem when you have an early Pesach,” he said. "And it’s the same problem with an early Rosh Hashanah because summer fishing is terrible and the guys don’t generally get into the water until after Labor Day."
He is looking forward to 2016, when Passover begins April 22 and Rosh Hashanah begins Oct. 2.