Why You’ll Find Marzipan Goldfish on My Nowruz Table

Step into an Iranian home during Nowruz, the Persian New Year which begins with the vernal equinox, and you’ll be greeted by what may be an unusual sight: an altar covered in ritual objects, including a shock of green wheatgrass, a mirror and candles and seven dishes. Each dish contains a different food that begins with the letter “S”. But the most eye-catching item of all may be a bowl of live goldfish that come and go. In recent decades, the millions of goldfish purchased for Nowruz have caused controversy: After the holidays, they are released into rivers and ponds where, for the most part, they die. To avoid this while staying true to tradition, I have a solution. Enter: marzipan goldfish, a harmless substitute that’s edible to boot.

It is unclear when the goldfish made its way to the Sofreh Haft Seen, the table of seven “S’s”, the staging of which has been performed in Iran since at least Zoroastrian times. The board is a blueprint for the coming year, with each item representing a desired quality such as health, wealth, and love. Goldfish, signifying life, add a dramatic splash of color to the New Year’s table and are traditionally released into the wild after the celebration; however, they are unlikely to survive the transition. Lately, many are coming up with creative ways to replace live goldfish, whether it’s a plastic toy, a drawing, or even an orange in a bowl.

As a chef, my solution to the goldfish riddle is, of course, edible – even if it’s still not fish. On my Nowruz table, you’ll find a marzipan goldfish, dazzled with a touch of golden food coloring, nestled between the bowl of sumac (symbolizing the sunrise) and a book of poetry by beloved 14th-century Sufi poet Hafez. century in Iran. The idea for marzipan came from when I lived near an Italian bakery in Brooklyn, whose window had a brilliant array of fruits, vegetables, and (conveniently!) miniature goldfish, all made from marzipan. almond and carefully painted down to the last leaf. , rod or ladder. I bought one just for looks, but after tasting the almond and vanilla flavored chewy candy, I was hooked.

The art of making marzipan fruit, or frutta martorana, remains popular in southern Italy and Sicily, as well as in the United States in specialty Italian bakeries. Although it may seem out of place on an Iranian table, marzipan is actually consumed throughout the Middle East – Iranians even have our own tradition of shaping blackberries, or toot, from marzipan flavored with saffron and olive oil. rose water, and tinting them with different colors. . These shirini, small sweets served to the guests, are accompanied by a tiny stalk of green pistachio. Moreover, almonds are native to Iran, so it seems fitting that they have a place on the New Year’s table which is, in many ways, a living panorama of Persian history.

The benefits of making marzipan goldfish are many. It’s a fun project to do with kids and adults alike, they taste great and can be stored for years – although I wouldn’t recommend eating for more than three to four weeks as they will go stale. There’s no release into the wild (and no fish food required) – just a sweet way to honor tradition and welcome spring.

How to make Marzipan Goldfish

Step 1: Gather supplies and tools

Here’s what you’ll need to make Marzipan Goldfish:

  • Fresh or store-bought marzipan
  • A goldfish or koi mold (I like this one)
  • Plastic wrap or cornstarch
  • Rolling pin
  • Small paring knife
  • Parchment
  • 1 plate
  • Food coloring (a full set of food coloring, or just yellow and red)
  • small bowls
  • 1 or 2 small brushes
  • Gold and silver luster dust (optional)
  • Edible ink pens (optional)
  • Food grade frosting (optional)

Step 2: Make the marzipan

Check the volume of your fish pan and think about how many fish you want to make, then make as many batches of marzipan as you need for that amount. You can always use store-bought marzipan, especially if you’re doing it just for decoration, but the homemade taste is much better.

Step 3: Shape the goldfish

Line the fish mold with plastic wrap or sprinkle with a little cornstarch (this prevents the marzipan from sticking). Take a piece of marzipan and rub it between your hands until it is soft and workable. If the marzipan is too dry to mold without cracking, wet your hands lightly with water as you work the dough with your hands.

Press a piece of marzipan into the mold and gently roll over the marzipan with the rolling pin so that all nooks and crannies of the mold are filled.

Carefully unmold the fish onto your work surface so the detailed side is facing up. Cut off any excess marzipan around the outside of the outline of the fish and place the fish on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat with the rest of the marzipan. Allow the goldfish to dry for two to three days before coloring it. They should feel firm to the touch and retain their shape when handled.

Step 4: Paint the goldfish

Squeeze food coloring into small bowls – if you want to make orange, use drops of yellow and red until you’ve reached your desired shade; otherwise, use whatever colors you want. If you want to make sure the color is what you’re looking for, test a small area under one of the fish, then move on to painting.

If desired, draw elements such as eyes and fins with edible ink pens and add shine with luster dust.

Finish each fish with a little icing (this adds shine and helps the color hold longer, but it’s not necessary if you plan to eat the marzipan in a week or two).

Store goldfish in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to one month or up to three months in the refrigerator. If you want to keep them as decoration for future celebrations, they will last for years, stored in a cool, dry place and handled gently – but these should only be for looks, not for eating.