Chicken Gefilte Balls (Falshe Fish) and Green Olive Sauce

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Jewish cuisine is full of make-believe. Many dishes are kosher analogues of foods Jews around the world found enticing. Italian Jews devised chazirello, breast of veal redolent of rosemary and garlic to mimic roasted piglets, and silken prosciutto d’oca, “ham” fashioned from goose, a delicacy relished today as much by Gentiles as by Jews. Turkish Jews make a rich milk pudding that does not break the laws of kashrut as a substitute for tavuk gogsu, a sweet dessert comprising an unlikely amalgam of milk and pureed chicken breast, served with ice cream in summer.

Other foods, like falshe fish, where ground chicken poses as gefilte fish, were improvised when the real thing was either unavailable or too expensive. To prepare it, most cooks followed their regular gefilte fish recipes, substituting water and vegetables for the fish broth—no bones and scum to skim, no fish smells, so the dish was a snap to prepare. I learned to add chicken wings from talented home cook Esther Taubenfeld so the broth is richer, especially important here because chicken breast is so bland. The wings also help the broth to gel when cold.

I’ve played around a bit with the texture, and since I prefer the fresher taste that comes with a brief poaching, the “fish” is simmered for only forty minutes, rather than the two hours traditional gefilte fish recipes require. You may substitute moistened matzoh or matzoh meal for the challah, but you must have some filler—it keeps the balls from turning hard and tough.

If you like, serve the falshe fish with real horseradish to complete the masquerade, but I love it with this delicious green olive sauce I devised to accentuate, rather than overpower, the delicate chicken.

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Chicken Gefilte Balls

  • ½ pound onions, chopped (2 cups)
  • Salt
  • 2 thick slices challah, crusts removed and discarded, bread torn into small pieces (about cups packed)
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts (if you prefer, have the butcher grind the chicken for you)
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
  • ½ cup grated carrot (optional)
  • 3 large eggs

Poaching Stock

  • 4 chicken wings (about 1–1½ pounds)
  • 2 large or 3 medium onions, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 3 large carrots, scraped and cut into chunks
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Sugar


  • soft lettuce, Belgian endive, or radicchio leaves for lining serving plates; Green Olive Sauce or prepared horseradish


  1. Prepare the chicken balls. Toss the onions in a strainer with teaspoons salt. Let stand for about 10 minutes. Add the challah and toss again. Transfer to a food processor and process to a coarse puree (the moisture from the onions will wet and soften the bread). Add the garlic and process to a paste. Scrape the mixture into a wooden chopping bowl (or onto a chopping block). If the chicken is not ground, pulse in the food processor until it is coarsely chopped. Place the chicken in the bowl (or on the block) with the other chopped ingredients. Add 2 teaspoons salt, the pepper, carrot, if using, and 1 egg. Chop, using a hand-chopper or cleaver, until well-combined. Continue chopping, adding the remaining 2 eggs, one at a time, until the mixture is finely chopped, smooth, and fluffy. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 1–2 hours.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare the poaching stock. Place the wings in the bottom of a large, deep pot. Arrange the vegetables on top. Add cold water to cover, a little salt and pepper, and a pinch or two of sugar. Bring to a simmer, skimming off any foam, if necessary, as it rises to the top. Continue simmering, partially covered, for about 45 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding another pinch or two of sugar if needed to erase any trace of bitterness.
  3. Form the chicken into egg-size balls or large walnuts if you prefer them smaller, wetting your hands if needed to prevent the mixture from sticking. Bring the stock to a gentle boil and add the chicken balls, placing them one at a time on top of the vegetables. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to very low, and simmer for about 40 minutes, or until the chicken balls are completely cooked through. Let them cool in the liquid, then transfer with a slotted spoon to a large, deep dish. Over high heat reduce the poaching liquid to about 1 cup, then pour through a strainer over the chicken balls and let cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.
  4. To serve, line plates with lettuce, endive, or radicchio and arrange the chicken balls on top. Pass the green olive sauce or horseradish separately.