Rigby’s Encyclopaedia of the Herring

A work in progress with no end in sight

DRIED HERRING

An early method of preservation, continued in Native American cultures of the North West and South Korea

DRIED HERRING

There are references to dried herring, usually in relation to the Vikings. Some commentators suggest this may refer to an early smoked cure – not least because the oil content makes the herring hard to dry.

In The Scots Kitchen (1929), however, F Marian McNeill quotes Martin Martin (Màrtainn MacGille Mhàrtainn) in A Description of the Western Islands (1703):

The Natives preserve and dry their Herring without Salt, for the space of eight months, provided they be taken after the tenth of September; they use no other art in it, but take out their Guts, and then, tying a rush about their Necks, hang them by pairs upon a rope made of Heath, cross a House, and they eat well, and free from Putrefaction.

The timing is important. After spawning the oil content goes down considerably. For the main herring fishing in Scottish waters this has been completed by September 10th.

The curing technique continues in Native American cultures of Alaska and British Columbia. A kind of half-dried herring, gwamaegi or billfish, is produced in South Korea. In both cases, of course, the Pacific herring, Clupea pallassi, is used, although AN Svetovidov in Clupeidae (1952) considered this as a sub-species of the Atlantic herring, Clupea harengus – so there will not be a huge difference.

Without Martin Martin’s guidance I once tried drying herring on the washing line. I was researching alternatives to Bombay duck when it couldn’t be bought in the UK. The herrings dripped away for ages, but unlike dried bombil (takh bombil in Marathi) the results wouldn’t have recommended themselves to anyone.