Herring is a saltwater fish that people usually think of as small, but which can grow up to 25 cm to 45 cm long (10 to 17 inches), and weigh up to 5 kg (11 pounds.) When young and small (about 7.5 to 13 cm / 3 to 5 inches), they are sold in North America labelled as “sardines”, though they have a different taste and texture from true sardines.To tell the difference, compare the price of the tins: the “herring sardines” will be cheaper. Larger herring are pickled or salted and sold as actual herring.They are fast swimmers that can live up to 20 years. There can be up to a billion herring in a school of herring.
They feed on plankton, so they can’t be caught with bait. They are caught in large nets.
A Herring has no scales on its head, and teeth only on the bottom jaw. Its back is greenish-blue; its sides and belly are silverish. Its tail is forked.
Herring are an oily fish, so fresh ones won’t keep long. Thus, they are often processed by picking, dry-curing, and / or smoking into kippers.
When herring is dry-cured in salt, the liver and pancreas are left in the fish for the enzymes they release.
Good pickled herring is pickled in a brine, though cheaper quality may use a harsh white vinegar instead.
The Dutch invented the “gibbing” technique back in the 1300s, which eliminates any bitter taste from the fish from removing the gills and the gullet before processing.
Herring consumption in the UK fell by 18 % from 2005 to 2008. [UK Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs figures.]
The Dutch eat a dry-cured herring by lowering it into their mouths by its tail. They also eat it on bread rolls, sometimes with chopped onion.
When choosing fresh herring, the eyes need to be clear and bright.
Rich in omega 3 fatty acids.
“There are several good regulations in Holland respecting the hering [sic] trade, which are strictly observed. The assorting, packing and pickling is done in the open air, by sworn Inspectors. The casks are branded with different marks, according to the several kinds and qualities, which are distinguished by the time when they were caught, whence they receive their particular denomination. The season for the hering Fishery commences on the 24th. of June, before that time, no vessel is allowed to throw a net.” Tench Coxe’s Notes on the Dutch and Prussian Fisheries, [ca. 23 November 1790]. In: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson Digital Edition, ed. Barbara B. Oberg and J. Jefferson Looney. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2008. http://rotunda.upress.virginia.edu/founders/TSJN-01-19-02-0013-0004 [accessed 27 Feb 2011]
Literature & Lore
The opening of Herring Season is still celebrated in late May in the Netherlands. A festival is held at Scheveningen near Den Hague. The first barrel at the festival goes to the monarch.
François Latry, the famous chef of London’s Savoy Hotel, was a fan of herring:
“Sir, It is appropriate at this time of year, when the peerless Loch Fyne herrings are coming to us from Scotland, that the herring should receive the tribute of an article in your columns. Recently I offered herrings at a banquet of London gourmets, the Wine and Food Society. The recipe I used was ‘La Matelotte de Hareng,’ which is Breton and hundreds of years old. The filleted fish is rolled round soft roes and cooked in red wine and then garnished with onions and mushrooms. Perhaps I may be permitted to say that all the guests much enjoyed this dish, which is but one of hundreds of delicious and nutritious ways in which the herring can be brought to the table. Owing to the different breeding habits of different varieties of the herring, there is practically no time of year when this fish is not in season. Herrings have received the highest praise from Antoine Carême and other great chefs. It is, I believe, only the herring’s abundance (its name is derived from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning ‘army’) and consequent inexpensiveness that prevent it from ranking with salmon and trout as a supreme delicacy.” — Yours faithfully, François Latry, Maitre des Cuisines, Savoy Restaurant” — To the Editor of the Times. The Herring. The Times. London. 31 January 1935. Page 15.
The Irish writer Jonathan Swift (1667 – 1745), in his poem “Verses made for women who cry apples”, wrote the following about herring:
“Be not sparing,
Leave off swearing.
Buy my herring
Fresh from Malahide,
Better never was tried.
Come, eat them with pure fresh butter and mustard,
Their bellies are soft, and as white as a custard.
Come, sixpence a dozen, to get me some bread,
Or, like my own herrings, I soon shall be dead.” Verses for women who cry apples. Swift, Jonathan. Miscellanies: The Fourteenth Volume. Second Edition. London, England: Hitch, Davis, Dodsley and Bowyer. 1751. Page 207.
Fearnley-Whittingstall, Hugh. Herring Recipes. Manchester: The Guardian. Saturday, 23 January 2010. P. 44.
|↑1||Tench Coxe’s Notes on the Dutch and Prussian Fisheries, [ca. 23 November 1790]. In: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson Digital Edition, ed. Barbara B. Oberg and J. Jefferson Looney. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2008. http://rotunda.upress.virginia.edu/founders/TSJN-01-19-02-0013-0004 [accessed 27 Feb 2011]|
|↑2||Verses for women who cry apples. Swift, Jonathan. Miscellanies: The Fourteenth Volume. Second Edition. London, England: Hitch, Davis, Dodsley and Bowyer. 1751. Page 207.|