Pickled Herring Recipes 3 ways

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Photo by Yuki Sugiura

Here comes a confession. I have never pickled my own herring. I have watched others do it, seen the effort and work that goes into it, but I have never tried it myself. To be honest, I don’t know many Swedes who have. What is much more common is to buy lightly pickled herring and then add flavors to it. This may seem like cheating, but the quality of a lot of pickled herring is really good and, in my opinion, much more reliable than the quality of fresh herring outside Scandinavia. You can buy pickled herring for further pickling (sounds strange, but true). This is ready preserved without any flavorings, essentially a blank canvas for you to add your own brine and then mix with sauce of your choice; we call these pickling herring or 5-minute herring. However, these can be difficult to find, so my suggestion would be to get a ready-pickled plain version (often with onions, carrots and peppercorns in the brine) and add the sauce of your liking. Leave the flavors to infuse for a few hours or overnight before serving.

In Sweden, we have two types of herring: strömming and sill. They are often confused by visitors, but basically they are the same type of fish, just found in slightly different places. Strömming is found on the east coast and because of the low levels of salt in the waters there, are slightly smaller than sill, which is fished off the southern and western coasts. Sill is probably the closest thing to the larger Atlantic herring found in the UK and what we tend to use for pickling.

I have had a lot of different flavors of pickled herring, including teriyaki! It is a surprisingly rich dish. You could serve a selection as a starter to a Swedish-inspired supper, or quite easily turn them into a full meal by adding some boiled potatoes with lots of butter and dill, crispbread and a selection of cheeses.

Here are three of my favorite ways to make pickled herring. Fresh flavors, like herbs, spice and citrus, are often added to herring marinades as they work so well with the richness of the fish. The orange and ginger here don’t dominate at all, rather they just add a delicate hint of flavor. For stronger results, you can leave the herring to marinate for a little longer or overnight.

All recipes serve 2 as a main meal, or 4 as a starter or as a part of a selection of pickled herrings.

Curried Herring with Chives Recipe

  • 1 jar (about 240g/8 1/2 oz) plain pickled herring
  • 100g [7 Tbsp] crème fraîche
  • 3 Tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1/2 lemon, zest and juice
  • 2 tsp medium curry powder
  • 1 small bunch of chives
  • 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
  1. Drain the herring and remove any bits of vegetables or spices.
  2. Mix the crème fraîche, mayonnaise, lemon zest and juice together in a large bowl. Add the curry powder and most of the chives, then fold through the herring.
  3. Refrigerate for a few hours, then serve topped with the remaining chives and red onion.

Apple Herring with Leek and Parsley Recipe

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 leek, finely sliced
  • 100g [7 Tbsp] crème fraîche
  • 75g [1/3 cup] light mayonnaise
  • 2 apples, cored and finely chopped, with a few wedges chopped into matchsticks
  • 1 small bunch of curly parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp apple juice
  • 1 jar (about 240g/8-1/2 oz) plain pickled herring 
    few dill sprigs, to serve
  1. Heat the oil in a pan and lightly fry the leek for a few minutes, until just starting to wilt but still retaining all of its color. Spread the leek out onto a plate to cool completely.
  2. Mix the crème fraîche, mayonnaise, leek, chopped apples and parsley together in a large bowl. Stir in the apple juice and season with salt and pepper. Drain the herring, discarding any bits of carrot, onion, spices, etc.
  3. Add to the sauce, then refrigerate for a few hours, or overnight, before serving sprinkled with dill and the apple matchsticks.

Ginger and Orange Herring with Dill and Mint Recipe

  • 1 jar (about 240g/8-1/2 oz) plain pickled herring
  • 1 orange
  • 1 small thumb of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 small bunch of dill, roughly chopped
  • 1 small bunch of mint, roughly chopped
  1. Set a sieve over a wide jug or bowl and drain the herring, reserving the pickling liquid.
  2. Use a sharp knife to peel the orange, avoiding the bitter white pith. Finely chop the peel and add to the liquid. Squeeze the orange and add the juice to the liquid with the grated ginger. Remove the herring from the sieve, avoiding any bits of vegetable or herbs and add the fish to the pickling liquid.
  3. Refrigerate for a few hours and then serve sprinkled with the fresh herbs.

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Recipes excerpted with permission fromLagom: The Swedish Art of Eating Harmoniouslyby Steffi Knowles-Dellner, published by Quadrille February 2018, RRP $29.99 hardcover.

Inspiration for edible alchemy.