Pickled herring experiments

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We were craving Swedish (or at least Scandinavian) pickled herring, and though even Ikea does decent pickled herring we obviously weren’t going there. But Spouse found a recipe! It was at Northern Delight, who do catering and workshops and also have some recipes on their website, hard to access because the thing to click on is so tiny and then you get a popup, so it’s impossible to link. I believe that adaptations are fair game, anyway.

There’s much less salt in my adaptation than in the original (about 1/4 the quantity) because I was starting from Hollandse Nieuwe, which is already salted. It’s the season for that now!

First try

I made a batch with dill from the original recipe; it turned out that it needed more sugar (not more than the recipe, I think; but I put the sugar in the pickling liquid by mistake and some of it got lost) and MUCH more spice.

Second try

Dill with more spice and only one shallot instead of two whole onions. Much better. I rather like onions pickled in herring liquid but they dominated, and it should be about the fish.

Mustard: no onion at all, but home-ground mustard from the jar that’s always steeping in our cupboard, some black pepper and a bit of lemon peel. EXCELLENT. Great balance of sour and sweet and salty. There was only one jar which we finished on two consecutive days, and it was even better on the second day so we wanted to find out what happens if you leave it, say, a week.

Third try

The whole “catch” of herrings from the market (buy 4, get the 5th free) divided between 4 small jars, two with mustard and lemon peel again and two with a finely minced shallot and a handful of herbs from the roof terrace (chives, parsley, hyssop, rue, mint, savory, lemon verbena, cilantro, chervil, thyme and one leaf of sage; carefully avoiding the dill, which is much depleted by the first batch –I bought dill in the supermarket for the second– and can’t stand the drought very well, and the celery, which I know I’ll notice and dislike). We’ll open the first pair in a couple of days and keep the others until next week.

— Right, three or four days seems to be optimal: the one-week-later batch wasn’t much different in taste but it had lost some of its firmness. We have the second jar of all-the-herbs for tonight, and tomorrow the new batch will be ready. The last two pieces in the other jar we gave to a visiting friend who knew the stuff from Sweden, and he said “Wow! That’s the real thing all right!”

Fourth try (yet to be tasted)

Two jars with mustard because that’s yummy. One with cumin and onion and a good dash of akvavit. One with cinnamon, ginger, galangal root, cloves, mace and allspice (oops! allspice is New World, can’t call it “medieval spices” though I labelled it “pouder-douce”).

I bought a jar of Dijon mustard, and then went to the other supermarket where I haven’t been since, let’s see, February, where I found out that they have a smooth version of our ordinary grainy mustard that I’d probably have wanted instead if I’d known. Ah, well. All I want is to try the next batch of senapssill with smoother mustard than I can make in the little mortar.

Okay, let’s have the recipe:

4-5 salted herrings (maatjesharing) or filleted fresh herrings

350 ml water
100 ml vinegar (I used cider vinegar)
1 heaped tsp salt (more if you’re using herring that isn’t already salted)

210 gr sugar


(for 1/4 of this amount; multiply and/or experiment!)

10 or more white peppercorns, bruised with the flat of a cleaver or in a mortar
10 or more whole allspice berries, ditto
1 shallot or small onion, chopped finely or coarsely as you like
a good handful of dill and/or other fresh herbs


2 tbsp mustard (YES THAT IS A LOT OF MUSTARD)
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
a strip of lemon peel


1 small to medium onion, chopped
1 tsp cumin or caraway seed, bruised in a mortar
1 tbsp akvavit

or indeed anything you think might taste good with herring and with a sweet-and-sour base flavour.

Put water, vinegar and salt in a bowl that the herring will fit in and stir to dissolve the salt.

Clean the herrings (maatjesharing has a tail; that shouldn’t go in) and put them in the liquid. Cover and refrigerate for 12-24 hours. This will firm up the fish.

Sterilize jars (5 herrings go into 4 small jars that pickled herring from Ikea came in) either by boiling them in a large pan of water or washing them with a hot solution of washing soda and then rinsing them with plain hot water. They don’t need to be completely sterile as they’re only going to be in the fridge for a week or less, but they should be very clean. Put the jars ready for filling.

Drain the herring, reserve the liquid, and cut each fillet into 4-5 pieces.

Put the sugar in a saucepan on high heat with as much of the liquid as it takes to completely dissolve it (keep the rest) and boil into a syrup. Cool in a bowl of cold water while you prepare the herring.

Mix each batch of herring with its flavourings (if you’re doing two or more of the same you can of course mix it all in one go) and fill the jars. Divide the syrup equally among the jars and top up from the rest of the liquid. Close the jars and keep refrigerated for at least 2 days, ideally 3-5 days. It will keep for up to two weeks in an unopened jar.

Enjoy! (And please tell me if you’ve found out something exciting!)

ETA: Tried the cumin and akvavit herring (3 days): SUCCESS. I ate most of the onions, too, which had absorbed flavour but were still crisp. I’ll definitely do this again if we have akvavit when I’m pickling, which seems to be every Sunday now (the pickling, not the akvavit). The current bottle of akvavit is Danish, more subtle than the Norwegian we had earlier.

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