I’m not sure who started it, but at some point people on the coast of the Baltic Sea and the Northsea must have decided, “Hey, that fish looks like it wants to get pickled and shipped to the inner land in large wooden barrels.” (Of course, you have to imagine that line being uttered in Dutch, Frisian or Polish.)
Pickled herring quickly became a staple in Central Europe – not only aboard European ships travelling the world. It was an affordable saltwater fish that, once pickled, shipped and stored comparatively well, enriching the diets of Christians during Lent or Fridays, adding flavour and much needed protein to the stews of the pauper in times when a kilo of meat at the butcher’s was 10% of an average worker’s monthly income, and, as an added benefit, helping people handle large quantities of alcohol.
It’s hardly surprising that herring, despite its distinct flavour that you either love or loathe, soon was incorporated in “traditional” dishes even in areas where there usually weren’t any saltwater fish available. And since Jewish cooks typically adopted the recipes of their respective environments and the majority of Jews used to be poor, herring ended up on many a Jewish plate as well.
Many traditional herring recipes consist of ingredients that either were victuals aboard ships as they kept edible for a longer while or stored well through the winter months.
As I promised Kelsey to link to him in a post, this diaspora recipe is for you, my friend:
Herring Salad with Beetroot
(a party favourite)
For a large bowl full of that salad that will give you about twelve servings, you will need:
12 matie filets (rinse and dry if they come in oil)
6 medium-sized red onions
10 – 12 gherkins (sour, not salty)
10 hard-boiled eggs
6 large boiled potatotes
approx. 300 gr of pickled beetroot (or more if desired)
Cut the matie filets into strips, finely slice the onions and the gherkins, peel and slice the eggs, cut potatoes in halves (lengthwise), then slice, dice the beetroot.
Now take a large bowl and start layering half of the ingredients in the following order: matie, onion, gherkin, potatoe, egg, beetroot.
Before you start all over again with the remaining ingredients, add the dressing. The authentic version is pretty rich with cream and full-fat mayonnaise. If you prefer a lighter version, here’s what I use:
6 tbsp low-fat mayonnaise
300 ml milk
2 – 3 tsp mustard
freshly ground pepper
some sugar or liquid sweetener
Mix the ingredients and season to taste, then pour half of the dressing onto the contents of the bowl.
Layer the rest of the ingredients in the same order as before and top with the remainig dressing.
Cover the salad with cling film and let it set in the fridge for about six hours. The beetroot will turn the dressing pink in the meantime, but that’s how it should look.
Serve with very dark rye bread.