You could say I’m a connoisseur when it comes to herring. And it’s not only at Christmas and to ring in the New Year that I enjoy herring, I eat it anytime. I like it on bread. I often buy a jar of it at the supermarket for a special occasion. And when I see the packaged salt herring in the store (only certain stores carry them) I will buy a few and make my own pickled herring. In mid-November I bought a 20-lb pail. There will be no shortage of pickled herring for family and friends this Christmas season.
For centuries, herring has been a dietary staple of northern Europeans: Scandinavians and particularly the Dutch and the Danes. If your parents or grandparents aren’t from a northern European county, you may not be familiar with it.
A few years ago I was touring California and visited the Danish town of Solvang, which means “sunny field,” about 140 miles north of Los Angeles. Solvang was founded in 1911 by a group of Danes who had traveled west, away from Midwestern winters. The town is home to a number of bakeries, restaurants and merchants offering a taste of Denmark in California. We stopped at a Danish restaurant for lunch and enjoyed an excellent buffet of mashed potatoes, vegetables and the best tasting herring I’ve had in years. California sea food in places like San Francisco didn’t come close to the herring at the Solvang restaurant.
Herring is one of the very best food sources of vitamin D. Our bodies make this vitamin in sunlight, but in our climate it’s not easy to get enough. There seems to be more to vitamin D than strong teeth and bones. It’s now thought that vitamin D deficiency might be a factor in many diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and diabetes.
Herring is loaded with EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). These fatty acids help prevent heart disease and keep the brain functioning properly. They also seem to be effective in reducing inflammatory conditions, such as Crohn’s disease and arthritis.
Ancient methods of preserving fish include drying, salting, pickling and smoking – all of which are still used today. In the 19th century people started to marinate herrings to obtain a more delicate flavour. It’s not hard to make your own pickled herring at home!
- 10 salted herrings
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups white vinegar
- Pickling spice, a few teaspoons will do
- 2 red onions, sliced in rings
- Bay leaves
Soak the salted herring in cold water up to 24 hours, changing the water numerous times to draw out excess salt. Soaking the herring in milk speeds up the process. Drain the herring, rinse and pat dry. Cut off the fins, pull out the backbone but leave the skin on. Cut the fillets crosswise into 2-inch strips.
In a saucepan, combine water, vinegar and pickling spice. (Some recipes call for a cup of sugar, peppercorns and other spices, which I don’t add.) Bring the mixture to a boil, remove from heat and cool.
Sterilize canning jars and lids in boiling water and cool. Arrange herring fillets, onion and bay leaves in a glass or Mason jar. Pour the cooled pickling mixture into the jar so that all the ingredients are submerged. Cover and refrigerate up to two days before serving.
Enjoy! And have a blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year.