I am Polish and so “herring” or, more accurately, “sledz”* is most definitely in my dictionary. Alas, the same can not be said of Dirk Gently** or the major supermarkets, in this area at any rate. Not one had fresh herring fillets or even packs of salted herring. A few had some wretched. small jars of marinaded herring (I made the mistake of buying one and could not believe how sweet and utterly revolting the contents were).
*(Pron: shledj, the “s” and “z” have accents
**see Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
The reason for my particular chagrin at this dismal state of affairs is that herring is a traditional food for Easter, specifically for Good Friday. I fondly remember my Mum filling a large glass jar with fresh herrings, sliced onion and a vinegar marinade, which sat on the kitchen floor marinading for several days until we would eat them with hot buttered, boiled new potatoes on Good Friday (and washed down with vodka by the menfolk, who regarded any other beverage as incompatible with pickled herring). Since I will not be spending Easter with the rest of the tribe this year, I had an odd hankering for some Polish tradition and herring is as traditional Polish as it gets.
Fortunately, all was not lost and the Polish shop*** in Aldershot had a tub of Matjes herrings (salted herring fillets in brine), some of which I have duly pickled in readiness for tomorrow 😀
I had fancied using fresh herring, but in many respects the salted are preferable, since fresh ones really need to marinade for a couple of days and whole herring are full of annoying, hair-like little bones which are absent from the salted fillets, having either been removed or dissolved/softened in the salt.
***I did a very quick dive in and out of there, blinkering myself to the large array of Polish cakes on offer, though now the idea is in my head, I’m going to have to make some of my own for Easter. There are Polish shops springing up all over the country and the array of cured meats, cakes and other delicacies is well worth checking out.
Herring is an “oily” fish and terribly good for you. Salted or pickled, it doesn’t taste oily at all in the way that, say, mackerel does. The flesh is whitish and firm and has a pleasant texture, I think, but then I like fish, from the completely raw fish in sushi to marinaded, smoked (hot and cold) and cooked fish of all kinds 🙂
1 pack of Matjes herring fillets
1 part white spirit vinegar to 2 or 3 parts water (depending on how vinegary you like them)
peppercorns and/or allspice
mustard seeds (opt)
1 bay leaf
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar (really a very tiny bit)
Slice the onions and place in a jar. Rinse the herring fillets and slice into smaller pieces if required. (If the herring are very salty, you may want to soak them in water, in which case you will probably need to increase the salt content of the marinade.). Put the water, vinegar, seasoning and spices into a pan and bring to the boil, ensuring that all the salt and sugar have dissolved. Turn off the heat and allow to cool a little. Pour into the jar over the onions and leave to cool completely before adding the herring. Leave to marinade at least overnight. For me, it is the bay leaf that gives it the traditional flavour, so do not omit that.
The process for fresh herring is much the same except that you will need a higher proportion of salt and vinegar to water in order to marinade and preserve the fish. You will also need to marinade for a longer period.