8 December 2016

Pickled herrings

Herrings are a hugely populous fish, and are often landed at Channel fishing ports in winter. They usually swim in large shoals, so when caught are often caught in large numbers. They also deteriorate quickly. As a result, herrings are often preserved. Smoking - either as kippers or less commonly bloaters, salting or pickling are the common methods in the UK. Fermentation is also popular in Scandinavian countries. I love a good pickled herring, but I find the shop-bought ones a bit too sweet and vinegary. Better to do it yourself. If a good catch of herrings has come in at the fishmongers, I often pickle a whole batch of them. They keep well in the fridge, and make an excellent lunch or starter.

Pickled herrings


6 herrings, as fresh as possible
50g fine salt
50g + 2 tbsps caster sugar
400ml white wine or cider vinegar
200ml water
5 black peppercorns
1 carrot
1 shallot
oil to cover


Start by making the pickle liquor. Mix 400ml white wine or cider vinegar, 200ml water, 2 tbsps caster sugar and five peppercorns in a pan. Heat stirring periodically until the sugar dissolves. Transfer to a cold jug and allow to cool.

Gut and clean the herrings. Reserve the milts - the smooth roes from the male fish - which make an excellent lunch for the cook who has prepared six herrings. (Recipe below).

Fillet the herrings. Herrings are bony fish, and contain not only pin bones but fine diagonal bones. I regard it as a kindness to my diners to remove the pin bones, but the fine diagonal bones can be left in. Once the fish has been pickled they break down sufficiently to be edible.

Skin the fillets by grabbing a corner of the skin from the head end of the fillet. The tough outer layer of skin can be peeled off as if it is a piece of cling film leaving the silvery skin underneath.

Mix together 50g salt and 50g sugar. Sprinkle a little in the base of a glass or plastic container. Layer the fillets on top, sprinkling more of the sugar/salt mix between each layer. Cover and leave in the fridge for about two hours.

Salted herring fillets
Rinse off the fillets and dry. They should have firmed up a little.

Peel the shallot and carrot and slice thinly. A mandolin is ideal.

Layer the herring fillets, shallots and carrots in a plastic container. Cover with the pickle liquor (which should be cool), seal and refrigerate.

The herrings should be ready to eat after 24 hours and will keep for several weeks if fully immersed in the pickle liquor. After a couple of days, I sometimes drain off the pickle liquor and cover them in oil instead to stop them getting too vinegary.

Serve the pickled herrings with a few of the pickled vegetables. They are delicious with steamed potatoes and a little creamed horseradish.

Herring roes on toast

Herring roes on toast

Herring roes on toast are a delicious snack for the cook who has just filleted six herrings. The male roes, or milts, have a smooth texture and are tastier than the female ones, which have a grainy texture.

Dust the milts in a little flour and fry in a hot pan in a little butter. They only take a few minutes, so get your toast on at the same time.

Meanwhile, make a beurre noisette by melting about 40g butter in a pan until it starts to brown.

Arrange the herring roes on the toast. Sprinkle over a few capers and some finely chopped parsley. Poor over the beurre noisette and tuck in.

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