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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Fish head for Rosh Hashana

Rosh Hashana begins Monday night, marking the start of the Jewish new year 5769. As with most Jewish holidays, it is customary to eat certain types of food as part of the religious ritual.

Many Jews have a tradition to have a fish head on the table, in addition to the apple, honey, pomegranate, carrots, spinach, etc. Being an angler gives you an opportunity to have unique fish heads on the table, from species you wouldn't be able to find at most fish stores or supermarkets.

A couple years back, my wife asked for the smallest head possible, as it isn't something she likes to eat, see or smell at our table. I obliged and beheaded a 3 inch perch, placed the head in a ziplock bag and brought it out for the meal. My in laws had a good laugh, wondering if I couldn't catch anything bigger for the holiday.

Last year, my kids all wanted something more impressive, I kept the head of a 9 lb Northern pike for the occasion. I froze it with it's mouth open wide, as nothing impresses kids more when it comes to fish heads than a nice set of teeth. They ended up shoving an apple in it's mouth too. Needless to say, my wife was less than thrilled with this pike staring at her just as she's getting ready to eat.

This year, we are invited to my parents for that meal, so I won't be beheading any fish, I'm sure all you catch and release fans are thrilled. Conservation aside, what fish heads have you used for you Rosh Hashana table?


Alter said...

It's a red snapper head this year. Not terribly impressive, but we were making sushi last week, and I like red snapper sushi.

When I was younger, my grandmother would bring a carp head. I'm not sure if it was actually as big as I remember, but I'm pretty sure the wobbly bits of fish jelly around it were as . . . unappealing as I remember.

It's a little odd that I like fish as much as I do, given that youthful exposure.

Freshwater Phil said...

Yeah, good old carp heads. They can get pretty big around here, a couple years ago I wnet carping a few days before Rosh Hashana, ended up bringing back a bunch for some poor people in my area, the Rav of my dad's shul needed a head, needless to say he was happy to find one at the last minute.

My grandparents used to pick up live carp for kapparot, put them in the bathtub for a day, then bash the head on Erev Yom kippur and make carp stew. Boy did that stuff smell!

Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer said...


I too wrote about this custom of serving a fish head for Rosh Hashana on my blog The Fly Fishing Rabbi. Not sure that I could actually catch the 5 pound trout required for the recipe, but there is always hope!

My best wishes for a good new year,
The Fly Fishing Rabbi
Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer