Fish have always been a bit of a mystery to me. I’m a fan of salmon, swordfish, and cod, of course, but when it comes to things like pickled herring or the things that they serve in tins in Northern Europe, I’m not quite as endeared.
Smoked herring is somewhere on the fence. This special dish showcases a unique smoky, fishy flavor that’s a fantastic addition to stews, soups, and even pizza. Die-hard seafood fans might even enjoy eating smoked herring on its own.
If you’re not already a seafood head, however, you might not know how you should prepare or even eat this potent food. Here’s everything you need to know in order to eat and enjoy smoked herring in your kitchen.
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Smoked Herring Fish
Smoked herring might not have originated there, but it’s become a mainstay of Caribbean cooking. It’s heavily salted and then left over a fire in order to add quite a lot of powerful smoky flavor. It’s sold one of two ways: deboned and nearly ready to serve, or with all of the bones intact.
Preparing Your Fish
While some people will actually munch on smoked herring right out of the container, the more sane thing to do is to remove the salty crust and boil your fish for a little bit. There’s a LOT of salt stuck to the outer layer, so even a person who normally enjoys salty food might balk at taking a bite out of one of these fish.
One thing to note: smoked herring smells pretty powerfully. You’ll want to leave it wrapped up until you’re ready to eat it. If this isn’t possible, try putting it in an airtight container. Otherwise, your fridge will smell quite strongly of smoky fish.
To start, first, take a knife or a paper towel and remove any excess salt from the fish. Next, either place them in a pot of boiling water for five to ten minutes. You’re not interested in cooking the fish. Instead, you’re trying to leach out some of the salt so that they’re a bit more palatable. A few minutes of exposure will do the trick.
You’ll probably want to discard the water afterward and rinse off the fish to get off a little bit more salt.
Simple Smoked Herring
This is all you need to do to properly enjoy your fish on its own. Smoked herring can be enjoyed alongside a hearty bread, some crackers, or cheese. It’s a great snack that you can eat while you enjoy outdoor activities. If you’d like more ideas, keep reading!
Tomato Based Dishes
Tomatoes are perhaps the best companion to smoked salted herring. These tasty fruits can be combined with herring in sauces, main courses, and appetizers.
The easiest thing to do is to simply saute some tomatoes, onions, garlic, peppers, and a little bit of smoked herring together in a pan. You can adjust the proportions of each ingredient to your liking. This dish is very easy to prepare and quite enjoyable. It helps to showcase the flavors of all of the ingredients: the tomatoes, the peppers, the garlic, and the herring.
I’m not going to provide a recipe here. Instead, use this as an excuse to experiment a bit. You really can’t go wrong with any combination of the ingredients above. Just chop things up and add them to a buttered or oiled saute pan in proportions that make sense to you. Be sure to use your favorite local peppers and your favorite spices in order to make this dish your own.
While this dish might seem simple, it’s actually a mainstay in many cultures. Both Caribbean and Indian cuisine feature a variant on this smoked herring dish that’s quite delicious. The Indian version is served over naan or jasmine rice, while the Caribbean version is often served with dumplings.
Of course, you can make this dish even easier by simply stirring smoked herring into your favorite spaghetti sauce or using it as a pizza topping. These tomato-based dishes serve as a wonderful way to present your smoked salmon without doing any work on your own.
Salads With Smoked Herring
If tomatoes aren’t your thing, try grilling your herring and making a salad. One simple uses grilled smoked herring that’s mixed with onions, celery, dill, capers, and a bit of pepper. You can present this on its own or serve it on top of rye bread with a bit of feta cheese.
Another idea is to use smoked herring in a potato salad. Mix the prepared fish with a diced onion, chopped and cooked potatoes, lemon juice, mustard, salt, and a bit of chervil, cilantro, or parsley.
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 tbsp dijon mustard
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- about 1 lb small potatoes (usually about 8), scrubbed
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 7 oz deboned, de-salted smoked herring filets
- a bit of chervil
1. First, combine the chopped onion with the salt, mustard and lemon juice. Coat the onion with this mixture to help break down the raw onion taste. Let this sit while you cook your potatoes.
2. Cook the potatoes in boiling water for about 12 minutes or until they’re quite tender. Drain them and allow them to sit until they’re safe to handle, then slice them into whatever form factor you’d like for your salad (I prefer small cubes).
3. Mix the oil, fish, and herbs in with your onion, mustard, and lemon juice. Next, add your potatoes and toss this mixture until everything is well mixed. You’re all set! Serve immediately if you’d like a warm potato salad. Otherwise, you can store this in the fridge for a couple of days.
Sandwiches And Dips
Smoked herring can be used in a variety of sandwiches. For starters, you could easily serve any of the recipe ideas above in between two slices of rye. You can also make a tuna-salad style sandwich with mayo, hard boiled eggs, smoked herring, dill, and a bit of chopped onion. You’re free to experiment and put together whatever combination of ingredients you think goes best.
Herring can also be added to dips in much the same way you’d use an anchovy. My personal favorite recipe is a Provencal-style dip that uses softened almonds, herring, raisins, lemon juice, mustard, garlic, and lots of olive oil to make a smooth, rich dip that goes well with pretty much everything. Here’s a quick rundown of a recipe:
- 3/4 whole almonds
- about 2 ounces of smoked herring, de-salted, lightly boiled and deboned
- 2 tbsp raisins
- 1 lemon’s worth of lemon juice
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 tsp of your favorite mustard
- 1/4 olive oil, ideally extra virgin
- 1 tbsp chives (for a garnish)
1. Boil the almonds for about 20 minutes in at least 4 cups of water. Drain, then rinse thoroughly.
2. Throw the almonds, herring, raisins, lemon juice, water, garlic, mustard, and a pinch of salt and pepper in a food processor or blender until you get a smooth dip-like paste. Next, slowly pour in the olive oil until things are completely smooth.
If you’re using a blender you may need to add the oil immediately or otherwise add a bit more liquid. You won’t ruin the recipe, but you will get a slightly different texture to your dip.
3. Transfer to your serving container and add chives, another pinch of salt, and perhaps a bit more lemon juice to finish your dip.
How To Eat Smoked Herring
Whether you’re using one of the dishes above or eating your herring raw, it’s important to remove any bones from your herring before it’s served. Herring is often sold totally deboned, meaning that you can sometimes skip this step entirely. If it does come with bones, however, you’ll need to remove them by hand.
Once that’s done, smoked herring is usually totally cured and safe to eat. Be warned, however: it’s got a powerful fishy taste that isn’t for everyone. You might want to use smoked herring in a recipe instead of eating it raw.
One thing to note: many people say that smoked herring is an “acquired” taste. This means that even if it’s too strong for you at first, try using it in a variety of more “mild” recipes. After a bit of acclimation, you might find it just perfect to enjoy on its own.
A Flavorful Addition To Your Kitchen
Smoked salted herring isn’t for everyone. It’s got a strong, distinctive flavor that makes it the star of a wide range of dishes, however. If you like to experiment in the kitchen and you don’t mind seafood, smoked herring is a great addition to your pantry. It’s a great excuse to explore many different types of new recipes while enjoying a unique, smoky, fishy flavor.