When I put out a recent call for guest bloggers, I received quite a response. One of the responses, from Hampus at Nerd Cuisine really intrigued me. He floated the idea about pickled herring. Wow! I am not sure that I have ever had it and thought it might be a really cool post by being so different for me. Take a look at this interesting post from Hampus and while you are at it, take a look at Nerd Cuisine…
Greetings from Sweden!
Since I’m from Sweden and Christmas is drawing nearer (I started writing this post on December 14), I thought a real Swedish classic would be in order. Therefore, today’s recipe is pickled herring, which is traditionally eaten at most seasonal feasts here (and in neighboring countries) and until about a century ago, when the last herring period ended, its abundance made it standard fare in coastal towns.
Unlike most Swedes, whose herring consumption peaks in December, I eat it pretty much all year round. As early as in kindergarten I showed signs of becoming a real herring aficionado, while most of the other kids eschewed anything fish based. The benefits of pickled herring are many; It’s reasonably cheap to buy here and the meal requires little preparation. It’s also rich in those fatty acids that are all the rage nowadays, and the industry is fairly sustainable as far as I know.
Fresh fish doesn’t respond well to pickling, so it needs to be salt cured and then soaked to remove most of the salt again. In the recipe below I’m cheating a bit by using canned pickle-ready herring. Here’s a short instruction on how to cure and soak herring, if you feel like doing things properly.
According to the Internet, fresh herring is probably a bit difficult to come by outside northern Europe, but since one should freeze it to remove health hazards, frozen herring is fine if you can get it. Layer gutted or filleted herring and coarse salt in a suitable container (bucket, glass jar, stoneware jug, steel bowl). The ratio is three parts salt to ten parts herring, by weight. Cover carefully and store in a cool place for two to three weeks.
The resulting product is salt herring (also available in certain web shops) which has to be soaked to remove some of the salt before cooking or pickling. Just soak as much herring as you need in lots of cold water for about 24 hours (less, the more often you change the water). Salt herring supposedly keeps for a year or more in its brine if stored in suitable conditions.
Filleting the herring before pickling isn’t strictly necessary, but one should at least remove head, fins, various membranes and whatever other inedible parts there are. The backbone should be fairly easy to remove, but the smaller bones can be dealt with at the table.
With all that hassle out of the way, it’s time for the actual recipe. I’m going to make two different types of pickled herring; kryddsill (spiced herring) which is the most basic recipe, upon which many other are based, and an experimental one inspired by Chinese five spice, that may or may not prove to be inedible.
Base ingredients serves 2, more if part of a smörgåsbord/buffet
200 grams of pickle ready herring fillet (7 ounces)
50 ml distilled vinegar (12% acidity)(1/4 cup)
100 ml sugar (1/2 cup)
150 ml water (2/4 cup)
The only reason for using 200 grams of herring is that it’s the amount found in aforementioned can. The recipe should be pretty easy to scale up as needed. The pickle is known as 1-2-3 pickle in Sweden, since it’s one part vinegar, two parts sugar and three parts water. Distilled vinegar with 12% acidity is the one most commonly found in Sweden. With weaker varieties just do math with the water. Unless I’m mistaken, the acidity before adding the sugar is 3%.
For spiced herring:
40 grams carrot, sliced (1.4 ounce)
40 grams onion, sliced (1.4 ounce)
1 dried bay leaf
½ tsp cloves, whole
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp allspice, crushed
These are the proportions that work best for me, but there’s always room for personal preferences. Other spices that occur in basic pickled herring recipes are white peppercorns, white mustard seeds, cinnamon, dill, sandalwood and mace. Feel free to experiment!
For five spice herring:
60 grams leek, sliced (2.1 ounce)
½ tsp cloves, whole
1 tsp Szechuan peppercorns, de-seeded
½ tsp star anise, crushed
1 gram cinnamon stick
½ tsp fennel seeds, whole
This is an experimental recipe. I thought that since cloves and cinnamon are common in pickled herring recipes and star anise and fennel often occur in conjunction with fish and are used in various Swedish akvavits (spiced vodka, more or less) the combination would probably be worth trying. Szechuan pepper isn’t used in either, but is probably awesome enough to pull it off anyway.
1. Cut fillets into bite-size bits. (optional. Whole fillets are prettier, but smaller pieces are easier to handle when serving)
2.Layer herring and thinly sliced vegetables in a suitable container.
Pickled herring is an important component of a proper smörgåsbord or julbord (Christmas smörgåsbord) and at other big holidays like Easter and midsummer. It is usually eaten with boiled potatoes, hard boiled eggs, bread and cheese, accompanied by beer and akvavit.
Unlike many other pickles, herring is still perishable and has to be refrigerated. Homemade pickled herring keeps for two to three weeks if it’s properly stored and hygiene maintained.
Classic variations (extrapolating from spiced herring)
Onion herring – omits carrot.
“French” onion herring – leave carrot out,use red onion instead and substitute distilled vinegar for red wine vinegar. I often put a small amount of thinly sliced roasted garlic in it.
Glazier herring – add leek and a small amount of horseradish
Colonel’s herring – substitute onions for blanched red bell peppers, use cider vinegar instead of distilled, add juniper berries.
Mustard herring – make and store spiced herring as usual, then remove from pickle and put herring in an emulsion of mustard, sugar, wine vinegar, oil and dill.
Other flavoring agents that occur in more modern recipes are for example scotch, orange rind, lingonberries, saffron, cucumbers and sea buck-thorn. The possibilities for those inclined to experiment are endless.
That’s all! I hope you all have happy holidays and that the new year turns out favorable. And by the way; The five spice herring turned out quite awesome.