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Herring: How do you eat it?

I grew up on herring. It was a ritual for my dad to tale some fresh herring to my grandmothers on Thurs. and pick it up pickled on Sat. Mixed with sour cream and sliced onions, heaped on great corn rye bread, it was a memorable part of my youth. A herring salad w/ herring, beets and whipped cream was a Christmas treat.
During the 70's & 80's, we lived in Norway and Finland and ate not only a wide array of pickled herring, but fresh, fried with potatoes and onions. We loved eatind new herring fillets, slathered in diced raw onion in the Netherlands(and the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station).
Here in Maine I'm pretty limited to Nathan's and Skansen pickled and Roland canned. When we visit my mom's in the NYC area, we come back loaded with jars of IKEA's ABBA brand and ACME and Lowells pickled herring. Although it used to be common it Maine, fresh herring is tough to find. How do you enjoy herring?

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  1. I love smoked herring and pickled herring. My dad is of polish descent and I grew up with pickled herring in sour cream and I can eat a whole jar of that in one sitting. My favorite is the pickled herring in the plain brine though, it has a cleaner flavor and more of a texture that I like. For smoked herring I eat it on rye bread with butter that's it and that's enough to satisfy me. Oddly enough I've never had fresh herring but would love to try it.

    1. growing up in NJ there were three ways of eating herring:

      1 - pickled herring in cream sauce with onions
      2 - pickled herring in wine sauce
      3 - chopped herring

      Jfood fell into bucket #1. He loved pickled herring from Superior Fish Store in Elizabeth, Kartzman's in Union, Tabatchniks and Bagle Chateau in Millburn and Livingston Bagel in Livingston. All on a bagel. Mrs jfood was a chopped herring gal on a bagel.

      2 Replies
      1. re: jfood

        Pretty much sums up growing up in NY. I was big on matjes herring. With pumpernickel. I've never seen anything like matjes herring on the west coast, much less pumpernickel. We can get some version of pickled herring in sour cream in a jar. What I miss and don't even find much in NY anymore is what we used to call an "appetizing store," that sold all that stuff by the pound, along with lox, white fish, sable. When I was growing up they were just regular stores in the neighborhood, not big upscale production numbers.

        1. re: Judith

          judith, if you need a "fix" you can always order from barney greengrass...


          as for the demise of appetizing stores in NY, let's be thankful that at least BG, Russ & Daughters and Zabar's are still standing.

      2. Just recieved a care package from Norway and my brother sent several bottles of Delikat pepper sild and appetitt sild so now breakfast is now my favorite meal. Sliced hard boiled eggs on rye toast, a little mayo and Norwegian pickled herring. The best.

        5 Replies
        1. re: currymouth

          Curry, that's what we had for breakfast this morning and gjietost too. Ahhh, matches herring in dill sauce on kneckebrod, w/ butter, sliced hard boiled egg a slice of agurke (pickle) and a little squeeze of mayo. Himmelen pa jordet! (Heaven on earth!). We just got in from the Banff film festival and there was a long entry about rock jumping off the fjords near Stavanger. Prekkestolen? I lived in Stavanger for 5 yrs. and my eldest son who was born there now lives in Korea. Hey how about a little farekol? Yum. But I would really love en polser med rekker salad (a hot dog w/ shrimp salad). Here on the coast of Maine, we get the same sweet North Atlantic shrimp as in Norway, for only about $.75 a lb. We have rekker smorbrod every Sun. for supper. Had det godt.

          1. re: Passadumkeg

            growing up in Goteborg, my idea of himmelen pa jordet was herring in mustard sauce. i also enjoyed the tomato with sweet onion sauce... with some black bread toasts. Har det sa bra!

            1. re: Passadumkeg

              Remember going to the grocery in Horten with my grandfather, and picking out herring from those big plastic barrels, 5or6 different types, but my favorite was always the herring in red wine sauce. along with the smoked salmon and peeled shrimp. Still have about 5 kilos of polser I smuggled back last year, I try to only eat 2 at time to make it last.

              1. re: currymouth

                Good Grief, curry! I think I want to be at your herring barrel!

                What do you do with the pickled delights? (Save eating them?)


                1. re: cayjohan

                  Went back home last year and found that those barrels are now a thing of the past. now mostly in glass jars, but still enjoyable never the less.
                  We still have openface sandwiches on sunday. Several cheeses, shrimp, salmon,spreads, hard boiled eggs,cold cuts, and pickled herring. some things never change. I find it a way to reaffirm my heritage and remember my youth.

          2. When I was in Boston in the 1960's, I used to by smoked herring filets at Stop n Shop. Hard dry salty things - great with beer (hey, I was a college student then ;)

            1. Herring is the King of fish...according to my Dad, with whom I have many fish conversations.

              I am a Minnesota native, Finnish descendent, resident of Finland for a long time. Herring is a wonderful fish. Pickled, in the U.S., it can make your cocktail table. If you love the fish in its natural state, perhaps re-visit the Scandinavian countries, or the Minnesota North Shore of Lake Superior. Fresh lake herring, gutted and grilled, are spectacular on the table on Superior shores. Fresh-caught, lightly-breaded Lake Superior herring is hard to beat. (I can give you a restaurant name if you like.)

              Get it fresh when you can, pickled when you can't get it fresh, and enjoy it every bite. Beautiful fish, beauiful flavor, however you prepare it.

              Loving herring in every incarnation,


              1 Reply
              1. re: cayjohan

                I recall having, at a breakfast buffet in Helsinki, herring pickled in a red wine sauce, deep,purple in colour. Delicious! I haven't been able to find it anywhere ever since.

              2. Pickled herring, whether in vinegar or sour cream is best on a plain old Saltine.

                1. My dad grew up in Bremerhaven, Northern Germany, so there was always a big affinity for all kinds of fish in the house -- predominantly herring, though. I grew up loving herring salad with beets, apple, onions & pickle...

                  I tried the herring in cream sauce in the kosher section here, but found it to be overwhelmingly sweet... nowhere near the stuff you get in the homeland. The first two weeks in Germany, I tend to buy a lot of herring -- mostly in yogurt with onion and apples, but also the already mentioned salad with beets.

                  My dad was really into the new herring filets you mention, aka matjes, in any incarnation. I find they can be a bit intense.

                  The last dinner my husband and I shared with him, we were invited to his place: it consisted of matjes (salt cured herring filets) with raw sliced onion, and fried potatoes. My father could not fathom how my poor husband -- who ended up eating mostly potatoes -- wasn't nearly as excited as he was. We ended up staying up till the wee hours of the morning drinking wine, and had one of the best conversations I can remember.

                  He passed away almost two years ago, and now whenever I eat matjes I think of him.

                  1. Have you tried the canned Bar Harbor All Natural Smoked Wild Kippers? They are a great brand. I like them in a bowl just drizzled with fresh lemon juice and vinegar to cut the oils.

                    They are also great made into a 'pate' with a bit of mayo or sour cream. Great on crackers, bagels, and on top of deviled eggs.

                    I had some fresh herring from the fish monger recently which I grilled in olive oil with garlic, and battered and deep fried.

                    I also cured some in vinegar with sweet onions, herbs, and salt which came out very good. Just put all the ingredients in a ziplock in the fridge for two days then served on crackers, baguette slices, pumpernickel, or rye with a topping of fresh chopped sweet onion.

                    My local Shaw's has dried smoked herring. I was playing around with them the past few days trying to figure out how to make them edible but didn't come up with anything. I tried soaking them in water to get rid of the salt and get them soft. I tried pickling them, frying and deep frying, a ton of things but they still tasted terrible.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: JMF

                      The local way to cook the dried smoked herring fillets is to boil them to get out the salt, then fry them in butter, served over boiled potatoes, with a white egg sauce. Wicked good, Almer!

                      1. re: Passadumkeg

                        How do you make the white egg sauce?

                        1. re: JMF

                          A bechmel. w/ diced hard boiled egg. Now where's the salt fish w/ potatoes and pork scraps?(Don't forget the diced raw onion!) A real heart stoppa!

                    2. I'm not big on the ones in wine sauce or mustard sauce (not that I'd refuse them!). I prefer them just pickled, by themselves, or on dark rye with too much butter, some chopped dill, and a dab of sour cream. And a cold Lappinkulta. And a shot of vodka. And my father.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: hungry_pangolin

                        Paiva! Where do you get the Lappinkulta?

                        1. re: Passadumkeg

                          Terve! Actually, I haven't had Lappinkulta (or Sininen) in a few years now. I live in Toronto, where the provincial liquor monopoly's only Finnish product is vodka, at the moment, and I don't know of any Finnish restaurants, anymore. The last time I had it was at the local Suomi Koti, five (?) years ago.

                          1. re: hungry_pangolin

                            And terve again! Thanks for bringing up Lappinkulta - I must look(search) for it here in Minnesota for the summer, as I plan on hunting down some perfect herring sources. (Sooooo hungry with this post!)

                            Kippis, and enjoy your silli!


                            1. re: cayjohan

                              The only Finnish beer we get here in Maine is Koff Porter.

                      2. I love herring! That's what I miss the most about polish grocery stores... you can find at least 20 different kinds of them. I buy it here in a russian or polish deli-matjas style in oil is my favorite. I take it out of the "old" oil, cut it in bite size pieces and spread on a platter. Then, the simplest way is to sprinkle them with green onions, some fresh fresh lemon juice, a bit of freshly ground pepper and pour a bit of good olive oil on top. Or, I make a dressing - sour cream, grated apple and onion, pepper, a touch of sugar, and some lemon juice. Mix together and cover herring with it. There are hundreds of recipes I know, and they are all wonderful. Of course it tastes the best with a fresh piece of rye bread.

                        1. As often as possible!

                          I usually eat strait up, sometimes with rye. I usually save it for when I can make a trip to Russ & Daughters (Manhattan) and can get the best. Their "Holland Herring" (fresh matjes) is fave, when available late spring. They have "North Sea" year-round, but it pales in comparison.
                          Love cream sauce, mustard sauce, in salad with beets & apples, kippered (on a bagel with cream cheese). Matjes (red wine & spice marinade) is the bomb!! Just give me the take-out container and a fork.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: dude

                            i haven't been to russ & daughters since i was a kid, but zabar's has excellent pickled herring & onions in cream sauce. i enjoyed some a couple of months ago when i was in NY visiting family...highly recommend giving it a try during your next manhattan trip.

                            man, i can't wait to move back home next month!

                            oh, and to answer the OP's question...straight out of the container with a fork, sometimes with a nice, crunchy, toasted bagel to sop up the sauce.

                            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                              another post just reminded me that pumpernickel is the only other appropriate accompaniment for me...

                              1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                Pumpernickel is indeed the best match for smoked fish, pickled fish, pickled fish in cream... herring salad. Shrimp salad even. I wish it weren't so hard to get around here --- (well, you can get that colored wonderbread stuff, though there should be a law against calling that sh!t pumpernickel). Ain't nothin' like the real deal ---

                          2. my favorite is my mother's(actually her mother's, well actually her mother's mother's, but I'm getting into a rut here) which is to take a medium jar of herring in wine sauce, drained, and cut into 1" cubes, add about 6 oz. sour cream a diced(not finelty, just about 3/4") tart apple, 1/2 cup of walnut halves, 1/2 a red onion sliced about 1/4" thick, a teaspoon of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt and about 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice. combine all and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. serve on black bread with a good vodka straight from the freezer. I'm salivating just thinking about it.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: chazzerking

                              chazzer, that sounds delicious. Somewhat like rosolos. <drooling> Wish I had the fixings.

                              But it brings up the question: On what bread do we serve herring or herring salads? I admit to a partiality to good sturdy (sturdy!!!) rye, thinly sliced. Any other suggestions?


                              1. re: cayjohan

                                I add diced fresh cooked beets too instead of sugar. Great color too.

                                1. re: cayjohan

                                  I preder rye bread too, the Finnish kind.
                                  I just ordered some from the "Nordic Baker". Cannot wait!

                                2. re: chazzerking

                                  I've seen in a couple of posts the mention of 'black bread'. Is this the same as pumpernickle? Or is it something else? Where do you get it and what part of the country do you find it?

                                  As far as the original question about herring; our family usually only eat herring at Christmas time and we continue to do so. We eat it from the jar in wine sauce and put it on crackers, I prefer it on Trisket crackers. I have also eaten it on bagels with cream cheese and slices of onion and tomato.

                                  1. re: jackrugby

                                    For a Finn "black bread" is 100% rye bread. Yummy. And so healthy.

                                    Here is a link to a baker that ships Finnish rye bread: http://www.nordicbreads.com/index.php...

                                    With shipping it is expensive, but I noticed that a farmers market, in Port Washington, NY, for example, sells these breads.

                                3. Hei, mitä kuuluu? Hur står det till?

                                  I love pickled herring (preferably in mustard sauce, but I like other kinds, too) with tender & small new potatoes (cooked in saltwater w. dill) and some fresh & flavorful tomatoes. ooh, boy! Soo, good.

                                  Fresh silli or silakka I grill w oil, but mostly I bread them lightly and fry them. Again, good, tender, new potatoes and tasty tomatoes is all I need. Maybe some lettuce...

                                  Maybe someone here can help me: Here in New York I have not been able to find "real" new potatoes, the kinds I got used to in Finland? Any time I have seen "new potatoes" on the farmers market by Prospect Park, for example, those potatoes are way too large and they are not of the tender kind I ate in Finland. Does anyone know if there is the kind of new potato I am still dreaming of, anywhere to be found in the NY area?

                                  P.S. We get our Abba silli/sill/herring from Fairway in Red Hook (along with good smoked Norvegian salmon).

                                  11 Replies
                                  1. re: FoodWine

                                    I grow my own. But i would think that a good gourmet shop or health food store would have them in the spring/early summer. I just netted a mess of smelt. Just like stromming.
                                    Nakamien, Ha det godt,
                                    Ole Pekkonen
                                    Tomorrow I'm dropping off to a friend a lobster buoy painted as the Finnish flag for his mukki (hytte)!

                                    1. re: Passadumkeg

                                      Ah. The joys of living in Maine. I do envy you Passadumkeg.What about mussels steamed in butter and Aquivit, with dill and shallots

                                      1. re: currymouth

                                        Ole Nordman sez Ufta, Aquivit is too expensive to waste in cooking. I have to walk 200 yd to pick mussels, dig clams or catch summer mackerel. Mussels in a dijon mustard cream sauce w/ bagguette, but fresh smoked mackerel is a gift of the Gods! But a mess of "fresh dug" steamed clams w/ cold beer is more proof that God exists and that she loves us. The wild mushroom picking is just like Scan. too. Canterells, black trumpets, boletes and morels, the bugs too!

                                      2. re: Passadumkeg

                                        Smelt! My favorite fish ever! The MN smelt runs are getting smaller and smaller over the years (it was an invasive species decades back and so no preservation move). So jealous of your netting. Do you treat your smelt the way you do herring?
                                        Pickled? Fried? What about the roe (love herring and smelt roe, personally)?

                                        1. re: cayjohan

                                          One is permitted a gallon of smelts per person per night w/o a license. Simplicity. A little four, a lot of butter, fried or boiled spuds, cole slaw or a salad and copious amounts of cold beer. Geeze, it maybe boring Scandinavian type fare(a little mustard sauce to kick it up a notch, but ketchup will do), but god, talk about soul food. Like Mn, ice fishin' is good too. By our cabin we get lake trout or salmon. In Finland weused to net them UNDER the ice. In Norway, I had a gill net, what a cornacopia; from cod to crabs!

                                          1. re: Passadumkeg

                                            I don't know you but I have to shake my (good-natured!) fist at you for bringing up some of the best food in the world while our rivers are still frozen.! :-) I think I need to organize my family for smelting while we still can! I'm waiting for May!

                                            And, um...Scandinavian fare is definitely not boring. Look at all the herring recipes! <g>

                                            But: do you keep the roes? So curious.

                                            1. re: cayjohan

                                              Fried in butter. Roe vs Wade? I'll roe! Cod, scallop, crab, lobster, mackerel, smelt, Fry that sack in butter and lay it on a slice of good rye w/ more butter.(Life is unfair. My cholesterol level is below average.)
                                              How do you prepare it? In Finland we used to get burbot roe in 5 gal buckets, freeze it. Eat it on buckwheat pancakes w/ sour cream and diced raw onion. Yum!

                                              1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                We did similarly in No. Mnnesota, Fresh smelt roe fried in butter in home-made rye - well, call "do-die-for" used outside of runway showings? :-)

                                                We cleaned and froze our roe, then loved it up when ready with a few finely minced onions and a bit of sour cream and S&P. Bring on the buckwheat blinis! Um, and drawn butter. :-)


                                        2. re: Passadumkeg

                                          I envy you, too, Passadumkeg! I love Maine. (It also reminds me a little of Finland).
                                          And I miss picking up my own potatoes from the farmers potato field, on the way to "my" mökki on the island. Ahhh... that is far away from New York....

                                          But your mention of the buoy painted as the Finnish flag made my day. I am still smiling.
                                          So if I ever see a buoy in Finnish colors in Maine, I will know who that buoy is from :-DDD

                                        3. re: FoodWine

                                          Try your markets in late June. No, not supermarkets. The farmers will often have delectable tiny reds (we call them candy potatoes in our house). I laugh when I see the red B's in the supermarket, described as "new" potatoes! New potatoes are tiny and taste like nothing else. Perfect foil for silli or silakka.

                                          You're in NY and I'm in MN, so there is the regional difference in growing - still, talk to your farmers' market farmers...perhaps they could deliver sometihng like the potato you're lusting for. Growers do aim to please.

                                          Gads, this thread is STILL making me hungry! Herring and new potatoes? Be still my heart!


                                          1. re: cayjohan

                                            Thank you Cay, I will try to talk to the farmers.

                                        4. For herring in a jar I prefer Vita herring to Acme or IKEA brand. Easily found and very consistent.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: dock

                                            I am sorry, but I must disagree with you. Have you ever noticed that a bottle of Vita has a thin film along the bottom of the bottle? Check it out next time you visit the grocery. That usually means that that bottle has been sitting for pretty much of it's shelf life. The result is a herring that is too sweet, mushy, and cloying in nature. Not by any means a true Pickled herring. Compare again, just out of the bottle and you won't be dissapointed

                                            1. re: currymouth

                                              Spot on. Vita is the Chevy of jarred herring, good, but not great. Try Lowell, if you can find it. I always buy the wine or plain, if I can find it , drain it and add my own sour cream and onions.

                                          2. truthfully...the only way i've ever had it is Solomon Gundy, the kind in the jars, sold around Nova Scotia, and no doubt countless other places.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: im_nomad

                                              Never even heard of it , can I get it in Montreal? Going up next weekend.

                                              1. re: currymouth

                                                hmm not sure.......but i found this on line:

                                                Solomon Gundy
                                                from "Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens"
                                                1/2 dozen salt herring
                                                2 medium onions
                                                2 cups vinegar
                                                2 tablespoons pickling spice
                                                1/2 cup sugar

                                                Remove tails and heads from herring. Clean inside and remove the skin. Cut in pieces about 1 inch thick and fillet the pieces. Soak in cold water about 24 hours. Squeeze the water from the herring. Place in bottle with slices of onion, in alternate layers. In a saucepan, heat the vinegar and add pickling spice and sugar. Let cool; then pour over the herring in the bottles.

                                                Served usually as an appetizer, with either the pickled onions or fresh onions, along with sour cream for dipping.

                                            2. I don't think I've knowingly eaten fresh herring. Kippers for breakfast occasionally. And pickled rollmops, of course.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: Harters

                                                You must travel towards the light, oh unherringed one. walk toward the light............. It's somewhat of an aquired taste. but well worth the journey.

                                              2. For those of you who have been herringed and have had it stick, I will recommend a nice restaurant in N. MN should a herring vacation ever come into play. http://www.angrytroutcafe.com/ATpage3...

                                                Best herring I have ever eaten. Truly.


                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: cayjohan

                                                  I love herring . But considering N.MN is about twice as cold and has 6 feet more snow than Oslo. Forgive me Cay..... I think I'll go home. Lets hear it for global warming everyone..............

                                                2. Permit me a few scattered questions/remarks....
                                                  1) The potatoes to which FoodWine refers... here in Toronto, throughout the year, we get "new" potatoes, ca. 1 1/2-2in or 3-5cm in diameter, with a thin, 'blond' skin, and a light, low starch flesh. Is that the same?
                                                  2) I agree with cayjohan, that Scandinavian cuisine is not boring. Climate and (historically) poverty have conspired against the cuisine, but the emphasis on freshness and simplicity compensate to some degree. My Finnish grandmother (God rest her soul) was an outstanding magician in the kitchen (if I remember correctly, her first job in Canada was as a cook in a lumber camp... one tough woman), and with the simplest ingredients at hand turned out the most delectable stuff. When in doubt at the stove, I sometimes think, What would Mumu do? For an interesting exchange on Finnish cuisine, http://www.chowhound.com/topics/475319. My thanks to FoodWine for the valiant defence.
                                                  3) Smelts! Oh, dear God! When I was a kid, smelts were a huge treat because they were fried, and I was allowed (because of the bones) to eat them with my hands. Occasionally I can find them here, sometimes very large, that two or three are enough for an adult's serving. My family's prep is somewhat different from Passadumkeg's... flour, egg/milk, seasoned breadcrumbs, then into the oil. Just lemon to dress it up.
                                                  4) I was curious about cayjohan's comment about the shrinking size of Mn smelts. Occasionally I can get them almost the size of a juvenile trout, say ~8"x2x1.5.
                                                  5) Have you noticed how the Finns have hijacked this discussion?

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: hungry_pangolin

                                                    Hey, when you fight 43 wars against the Russians and lose every one, that demonstrates toughness or Sisu! I am panScandanavian and every one else too.
                                                    Just gimme good food!

                                                    1. re: hungry_pangolin

                                                      That sounds about right otherwise, but they do not tend to be as large as 2 inches. And the tiniest ones can be under an inch The taste is mild and slightly nutty sometimes, and they are so tender that they almost melt in the mouth.
                                                      Oh, one thing I forgot to mention in all my daydreaming posts about all this good food, is that a dab of butter on top of a new potato is just soo good. I do not really eat butter anymore, but for sometimes I make exceptions. New potatoes definitely are in that category. yummmmm...

                                                      1. re: hungry_pangolin

                                                        hungry p - just saw your post, and w/regard to smelt in Minnesota, I meant the smelt runs (the netting takes, number of fish), not the size of the individual smelt. The take is less and less as years go by. I''m still finding smelt about 6 inches plus long, but the abundance is a thing of the past. Perhaps your more northerly location gets some better runs and sizes?

                                                        Oh and yes - Finns have piped up on this thread! How could we not? It's about herring! Your "What would Mummu do?" question was wonderful. My Mummu also cooked for loggers and fur trappers - lots of herring, smelt , venison and moose, with creativity thrown in. Summer was the best with the fish take, kept cool in the well. She always cooked fish to a turn.

                                                        Hijacking or not, the Finns know herring and smelt.

                                                        With Sisu,

                                                      2. Agree, I like the pickled herring available at Scandinavian deli's, but IKEA has a nice little array of pickled herring in a jar (ABBA), and a selection to choose from. The only other thing would probably be to bring some over and pickle it yourself.
                                                        I love pickled herring on it's own. I'm not a big fan of Gravad Lax(much like certain sushi, it is an acquired taste), but I will eat it with mustard for example, never by itself. As an aside, does anyone know if the umlaut double dot above the vowels, is the same in swedish and other sandinavian languages as it is in german?

                                                        1. Pickled in wine with onions, straight from the jar! I prefer Skansen to Vita and haven't tried any other brands. Kippers are good too, but if I eat those I have to share with my cats. That Finnish stuff sounds great! Looks like I need to widen my horizons.