Traditionally, herring is preserved by either curing in brine or by pickling in vinegar. In this recipe, we’ll do the latter; together with some onions and spices. Once you’ve pickled it, use it in your favourite recipe or simply serve it on a piece of dark rye bread. Delightful.
In Europe (and parts of Asia), we’re obsessed with herring in all forms – yet somehow that trend never caught on across the pond. So if you’ve never tried it, don’t miss out!
For the full list of ingredients & detailed instructions, please see the recipe card at the end of this post. But before you scroll, there’s important stuff to know below.
In Poland, a Christmas Eve dinner wouldn’t be complete without ‘Śledź’ (herring, pronon. ‘shleh-G’).
Herring fillets (pickled in vinegar, oil or sour cream) are traditionally served as a cold appetizer or a side dish. If you’re looking for more Polish festive recipes, try these:
Do you need any special ingredients to make this Herring pickled in vinegar?
Yes, you’ll need one of the following:
- salted herring fillets (in brine), or
- fresh herring fillets – you can buy a whole fish of course, but then you’ll have to gut and debone it.
Herring was once abundant, but in the last few decades, herring stocks have declined dramatically. Baltic herring is small and lean. Atlantic herring is incomparably larger and has more meat in it than the Baltic herring. This is mainly due to better living conditions for fish compared to our Baltic Sea – less pollution and lower water temperature.
A true king of herrings lives here – in the North Sea, just by Denmark and Norway. It’s a young, immature herring known as ‘Matjes’ (more about it here on Wikipedia). Matjes is much plumper, richer in fat and milder in taste. Not surprisingly, it’s also expensive.
Pacific herring stocks are severely depleted. Whatever’s left, gets exported – mainly to Japan, where it’s considered a delicacy.
🇵🇱 Herring was a staple of Polish diet for centuries. But today a high quality fish is hard to come by. When it comes to prepackaged mass-market herrings (sold in plastic wraps and buckets), the list of ingredients is often dodgy to say the least. It’s full of unnecessary additives, phosphates, citrates… where all we need is fish and salt.
You’ll also stumble upon herring fillets sold as ‘a la matjas’. It’s a marketing ploy, they’re just regular herrings.
🌍 Internationally, if you live in the Netherlands, Germany or Scandinavia – you’re in luck, I’m sure you know all the good spots to buy a decent herring.
Elsewhere in the world, your best bet is to head to Dutch, Polish, Jewish, Scandinavian, German or Russian groceries. There are more and more online fishmongers popping up, so it’s worth having a quick google search in your region.
What should you serve with this Pickled Herring?
Pickled Herring is often enjoyed as a snack or an aperitif. It goes especially well with dark rye bread and some dill pickles on the side.
Boiled eggs and potatoes in various forms are also common companions. Herring marinated in vinegar makes a fine salad and sandwich ingredient.
In terms of beverages, this classic herring pairs well with a shot of vodka (especially Polish vodka!).
Herring is present on a Polish Christmas Eve table (‘Wigilia’) and is served alongside other dishes.
Can you Pickle this Herring another way?
In general, there are two ways of pickling fresh herrings: in a vinegar-based marinade (as in our recipe here), or in brine.
This recipe is a great basis for countless flavour combinations. Here’s some suggestions you can try adding to your marinade:
- Herbs and spices: bay leaves, rosemary, dill, mustard seeds, allspice berries, juniper berries, peppercorns of every colour, cinnamon, cloves, curry powder, paprika, chili peppers, sandalwood, honey
- Veggies, roots and fruit: onions, ginger, garlic, carrots, raisins, wild mushrooms, dried tomatoes, horseradish
- Condiments and liquids: mustard, sherry
What diets is this Pickled Herring suitable for?
These Pickled Herrings are suitable for vegetarians. They’re also dairy-free.
How long can you keep this Pickled Herring in the fridge?
Once served, these Pickled Herrings can safely stay on the table for a few hours.
Store them in the fridge (on the lower shelf) for up to 2-3 weeks, ideally in a jar or another type of glass container with a lid.
Can I freeze this Pickled Herring?
No, once it’s pickled, you shouldn’t freeze it. But this Pickled Herring lasts a really long time in a refrigerator, there’s no need to freeze it.
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