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.

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  • Here’s my favorite herring recipe:

    Pick up herring and onion with toothpick. Eat. Follow with scotch chaser. Repeat.

  • Okay, enough of this Ashkenazic fare, can we get some Sephardic food on this blog? Please?

    (no worries, Froylein, I just have a problem enjoying herring – it makes me think of old Jewish men dovening shacharit and having some for breakfast after. Actually, it also reminds me of my bar mitzvah teacher who often had herring breath as he was angrily correcting my mistakes. Ugh!).

  • I rather like the Russian name for this dish; selyodka pod shuboy or herring in a fur coat.

  • Judi, that reminds me of “Rollmops“.

    Middle, I can make falafel, but CK laughed at me when I told him about it. That was such a blow to my self-esteem that I won’t even dare sharing any other recipes, not even those for my curries. 🙁

    Chava, thanks for teaching me some more Russian. Most of my vocabulary so far consists of curses. 🙂

  • For those of you who have been to Holland, nothing beats these.

    Unfortunately, they are not easily available in Israel, perhaps not at all. They can be found in the UK and maybe in the US, usually vacuum packed.

    Simply add onions and a good single malt on the side.

  • Shy Guy, that’s pickled matie. You take the fresh matie, cover it in flour, fry it in a pan and then pickle it. It’s called “Brathering” in German. You can get it with bones or without (and rolled up like a Rollmops), they often come in cans or jars.
    Maybe you’ll be able to find something like that in a Russian supermarket.

  • Oops! I was referring to the brined herring, the fresh matias, mentioned on the page.

    These are NOT pickled and DO NOT pickle them! They are smooth tasting, almost like sushi.

    The matias imported here is heavily salted and not very fresh. However, they can be greatly improved (also the schmaltz herrings sold here). Clean them by hand from any excess salts oils. Bone them well. I find there are still too many bones in the fillets I buy here in the shuk. Don’t you just love those when you feel them in your mouth? Ugh!

    Place the cleaned fillets in layers in a lidded plastic box, with layers of fresh white onion ring slices, thickly sliced, in between. Don’t be skimpy on the onions.

    Fill the box with enough canola oil to cover the contents. Try to tap out any air bubbles in the box. Seal with the lid and place in the fridge for 5-7 days. Do not eat those onions. They absorb a lot of the excess salt.

    Maybe I should call this refurbished or even resurrected herring. 🙂

    • Yeah, they are the “virgin” herrings. Their flavour is not as strong. Some brands get rid of all the bones, others are not so kind. 🙂 If you’ve got fish forks, “sweep” the filet lengthwise from “tail to head”; that’ll rid you of most if not all bones.

  • Froylein, ck laughed when you mentioned your falafel? And since when is he the guru of falafel making?

    Besides, we’ve seen pics of your cakes and those look better than what most of our local bakeries produce.

  • Oy, nebech, Middle. Seriously, I really feel sorry for you.

    Herring is the shizzits. Especially smoked herring.

    However, herring goes better with aquavit or beer than with single malt.

    Not herring, but:

    Buy a mess of very fresh smelt (also called “whiting” or “white bait”). Gut them but leave the bones in. You can leave the head on if you like. If I could get fresh herring I would use them too. Back in the day, San Francisco bay used to have so many herring you could practically walk on them when they were running.

    Dust in flour and quickly deep fry until crisp and golden. The fish cook quickly, so don’t over-fry them.

    Prepare a marinade by boiling together vinegar (apple cider vinegar is best), some sugar, bay leaf, onions, coarsely crushed (or whole) peppercorns, a bit of celery and carrot for flavor (and sweet spices such as allspice and cloves, if you are into that.) And perhaps a whole small red chili if you like it a bit harif. This is all to taste, so I don’t have any quantities.

    Place the cooked fish in a non-reactive vessel with a lid and cover with the hot marinade.

    Let cool and then refrigerate for a day or two.

    Break out the German-style thin rye or knackbrot, beer, and aquavit and go to town.

  • Ah well, Middle, in conclusion, Tom is getting a parcel loaded with home-made cookies within the next few days and CK is not. 😉

    Ephraim, that recipe sounds great. The marinade for Brathering is similar, just with allspice only, no extra pepper (allspice is called “Pimentpfeffer” here; I also use it in gravy) and with pearl onions. If you just have the Brathering, you can eat it on bread, with a side of tomato-salad and baguette, with “Bratkartoffeln” (not hash browns, but German-style pan-fried potatoes), “Pellkartoffeln” (young potatoes boiled in their peel) with herbed quark and cucumber salad, …

  • Where the hell is Tom? Ever since he starting berating me for disliking Republican politicians, he’s been appearing here less and less.

  • Quarks in a salad? Wouldn’t that produce a black hole or something?

    Yes, with the potatoes the smelt would be very good. And the cucumbers. With dill.

    This Chanuka, in addition to regular latkes, I made Swedish style latkes, what they call “Rarakor med Graslok” (can’t put in all the umlauts and diacritics Swedish requires).

    Just coarsely grated potatoes with chopped chives, salt, and pepper, pressed very flat, and fried in butter and eaten right out of the pan as is.

    Simple is best.

    And my son is addicted to red cabbage, apples and onions (Rotkohl mit Apfeln), my father’s recipe and one of my all-time favorite childhood comfort foods. The tradition lives on. His Opa is so proud.

  • Middle, I suppose Tom is busy. We’ve only been in touch via email lately. So don’t worry; it’s not you that’s keeping him away. 🙂

    Ephraim, red cabbage? Really? Wow, I’d never have thought anybody outside Germany loved it. 🙂
    My mother always cooks large quantities (with some vinegar) and then fills the cabbage into jars with twist-off lids and flips them over like when cooking jam. The cabbage keeps fresh for months on-end that way.

  • Tom, I’m pretty sure he marinates it in a sauce consisting of innuendo, ad hominem, misdirection, and non-sequitur, with a pinch of post hoc ergo propter hoc as seasoning, and then lets it ferment until it is good and ripe.

    However, I assume the actual recipe is a family secret.

    • Ephraim, do remember this comment about my writing when Yom Kippur comes around this year. I’ll accept the apology.

  • I, like Middle, have a problem enjoying herring – same negative connotations. In addition to the general American apathy to fish, I have a real ewww reaction to people disemboweling bristly, unboned chunks of herring at kiddushes. Maybe I’ll take an occassional nibble at a slice of boned fillet.

    But I love smoked whitefish and sardines.

    Ephraim – are smelts the same as sprats? I bought a can of sprats once here – tiny fish with nothing to them, and blander than sardines.

  • Nope.





    Smelt are very bland also, but very fresh and clean-tasting. Just dusted with flour, deep fried and served with salt and lemon, I could eat pounds and pounds of them. So good.

    Sprats is a generic name for small herring, it seems, and if you like smoked fish, the smoked sprats in a round can from Latvia are just


    You can get them in any specialty European/Russian food market.

    A can of those, some Swedish sour rye knackbrot, a bit of cheese, thin-sliced red onion, lemon, a fresh salad, and some good bitter Pilsner, and I’m good.

    Save some extra lemon to de-fishify yourself afterward. The fish oil and smoke have a powerful smell.

    Very much worth it, however.

  • Get a sensayuma, Middle.

    I hear Walmart has them on sale.

    And the “I’ll forgive you for all the bad things you’ve said about me if you just apologize” thing works both ways.

  • C’mon guys. I’ll provide the cookies (they’re on their way to Tom) and the coffee, and you lads start behaving like adult men and role models.

    Do it for me.


  • I love solomon gundy that is the best way to eat herrings.