I’m not much of a fisherman. In fact, I’m the only person I know of who has managed to break their jaw while fishing (although that had more to do with the whiskey than the fish). Consequently, I don’t have a lot of experience dealing with whole fish. But when the Olympia Seafood Company got in a batch of whole, fresh herring, I knew I had to have some. Why? Because of the first two lines of American Wedding, the first Gogol Bordello song I ever heard: “Have you ever been to American wedding?/ Where is the vodka? Where is marinated herring?”
Please see for yourself the majesty that is Gogol Bordello:
It is not hard to gut a herring, I found out. Scale the herring with the edge of a knife (easy, the scales just fall off), cut off the head of the fish and the fins, open the belly and remove the guts and roe. If you’re lucky, you will get some soft roes (the white ones, not the orange ones). I got two soft roes out of eight fish. Then cut to the backbone, open up the fish and flatten it on the chopping board. The spine will come out taking most of the ribs with it. Presto!
Ashkenazi-Jewish marinated herring, of Gogol Bordello fame, and pickled herring, of English pub lunch fame, are two similar but different recipes, and I was going to try both. But first – the soft roes! Roes are very simple to prepare: toast an English muffin or similar bready vehicle, and fry the roes in butter on high heat. They will curl up. Dash with salt and pepper. Toss in some chopped parsley so it gets nice and crispy in the butter. Spread on toast. The end result is a little like eating delicious bone marrow, but with a fishy touch.
Marinated Herring for Non-American Wedding
2-3 herrings, filleted
1 onion, sliced
juice of 1 ½ lemons
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 ½ tbsp sugar
10-15 allspice berries
½ tsp mustard seeds
3 bay leaves
Soak the herrings in cold water for 5 minutes, then drain. Soak again for 3 hours, then drain. Soak overnight, and drain. Rinse well.
Cut each fish into bite-sized pieces and combine with all the other ingredients in a glass bowl. Add just enough water to cover. Cover the bowl, and chill for 2 days to allow the flavours to get to know each other.
Serve with black bread and vodka.
Pickled Herring by Fergus Henderson (The Whole Beast)
8 herring, filleted
¾ coarse sea salt
3 cups sugar
2 cups white wine vinegar
1 ¼ cups water
14 whole allspice
2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
3 red onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 ½ inches fresh horseradish, peeled and thinly sliced
3 bay leaves
Mix the salt and 1 ½ cups of the sugar together, and place your fillets in a plastic container, sprinkling the mixture between each later. Chill for 24 hours, which will draw some of the moisture out of the fish. Next day, rinse off the sugar and salt and drain the herring.
In a stainless steel pan, heat up the vinegar, water, and the remaining sugar until the sugar is thoroughly dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. In the container in which you intend to store the herring (plastic, glass, or china), layer the fillets with your spices, sliced vegetables, and bay leaves equally spread about, then cover with the cooled sugar solution. Leave for a week before eating; it will keep very well in the fridge. Serve with crème fraiche and capers.