A selection of fine recipes reflecting the love of herring in the Jewish diaspora (not including ones treated individually in this encyclopaedia)
Jewish cultural enthusiasm for the herring matches that of the Dutch. It merges with a sense of identity. Rooted in the Ashkenazi diaspora of the Baltic, Ukraine and Russia, it has spread wherever those populations have gone in response to persecution.
It’s disturbing when you come across C19th or early C20th colloquial mention of the Jew boy trade, as a market strand of the British herring industry. It’s testament, however, to the strength of the immigrant culture demand for the delights of salt herring, in particular, where, for a complex of historico-religious reasons, there wasn’t much of an indigenous home market.
For much of the C20th Jewish grocers flew the flag for salt herring in this country almost single-handedly. It wasn’t until the more recent wave of Polish / Russian / Lithuanian supermarkets that availability of this once mainstay of British export became more widespread.
So, big hurrahs for immigration, without which we’d have been left with a lamentably diminished fish dish repertoire – not even including battered cod or haddock, which came from an earlier wave of Jewish immigration.
Schmaltz herring provides the particular focus of this dreamy-eyed Jewish love story, but it is broader than that. In the way of diasporas, the culture appropriated or adapted the recipes of surrounding communities: some of the dishes here are not exclusively Jewish, but it is enough that they are loved.
These recipes have been culled from a range of sources, including Florence Greenberg’s Jewish Cookery (1974), Evelyn Rose’s Jewish Cooking (1994), Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food (1996) and Clarissa Hyman’s Jewish Kitchen (2003).
A number of the cold recipes start with whole, ungutted salt pickled herrings – I have just specified the number of fillets except where the double fillet or the fish’s soft roe are required. The whole fishes are available at the best Jewish, Baltic and Russian delis, usually from a tub. Aficionadoes tend to prefer filleting their own, but they need to be soaked overnight.
There are debates over whether the use of milk and fish together is permitted under Jewish dietary rules. Ashkenazi tradition tends towards leniency. Concerns only apply when dairy products are used in cooking, so smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels are fine, anyway. If you aren’t Jewish, or if you simply prefer, for the cooked dishes you can use butter instead of margarine.
For Herring under a Fur Coat (Shuba), Schmaltz Herring, Rollmops and Bismarck Herring, see individual herripedia entries.
I am indebted to an old friend, Simon Tepper, for sharing his Jewish cookery book library with me.
- 6 whole salt pickled herrings
- 500ml white vinegar
- 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
- 1 large unpeeled lemon, sliced
- 1 level tablespoon pickling spice
- 2 bayleaves
- 1 chilli
- 2 level tablespoons brown sugar
- White pepper
Behead, gut, soak and debone the herrings. Sprinkle the flesh side lightly with white pepper, add 2 or 3 thin onion rings, then roll them up from the tail end. Skewer the herring with a wooden cocktail stick to secure the roll. Put in a jar, alternately layering the herring rolls with the sliced lemon, onion and whole spices and herbs. Put the vinegar and sugar in a pan and bring to the boil, turning it off the heat immediately it has done so. Leave until lukewarm, then pour over the herrings. Cover and refrigerate for 4 days. Serve in 1cm slices.
Chopped Herring Salad
- 4 salt pickled herring fillets, skinned and steeped in water or milk
- 1 large mild onion
- 4 thin slices brown bread, crusts removed
- 4 teaspoons wine or cider vinegar or juice of 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons sunflower oil
- 4 hard-boiled eggs (optional)
- 2 tart apples (optional)
- Juice of 1/2 lemon (optional)
Polish variation: add 4 teaspoons of caster sugar and use crumbled ginger biscuits instead of bread. Ukranian variation: add 250ml sour cream. South African variation: Marie (plain) biscuits instead of bread.
Drain and dry the herring fillets. Finely chop or crumb all the non-liquid ingredients separately. If using the apple, add the optional lemon juice. Mix them all together with the vinegar or lemon juice and the oil. Serve with additional slices of brown bread.
Gehackte Herring: 8 salt herring fillets. skinned and steeped, 1 medium onion finely grated, 1 tart apple, 1 level tablespoon caster sugar, 2 level tablespoons fine matzo meal, 4 tablespoons vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon white pepper.
4 salt herring fillets, 1 tablespoon chopped onion, 1 large sour apple, 2 tablespoons vinegar, thick slice of bread, 2 tablespoons oil, 1 hard-boiled egg, lettuce leaves
As with previous, but soak the bread in the vinegar, then break up with a fork, mixing with the other ingredients apart from the egg (which should chopped and sprinkled over the top) and the lettuce leaves (upon which it should be served).
Potato Salad with Herrings and Apples
- 500g new potatoes
- 2 tart apples
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 3 salt herring fillets (skinned and desalted) cut diagonally into 5cm pieces
- 2 stalks celery
- 1 mild onion, finely chopped
- 300ml sour cream
Boil potatoes until tender, peel and cut into thick slices. Peel, core and chop apples into small pieces and mix with lemon juice. Mix all the ingredients together.
Herring Salad with Mayonnaise
- 4 salt herring fillets, skinned and steeped
- 1 dessertspoonful chopped olives
- 1 hard-boiled egg, chopped
- 1 dessertspoonful chopped cucumber
- 1 medium boiled potato, chopped
- 1 teaspoon capers
- 1 dessertspoon chopped onion
Finely chop the herring. Mix with the egg, potato, olived, cucumber and onion. Add the mayonnaise to moisten the mixture. Garnish with capers and chopped beetroot.
Herring and Soft Herring Roe Salad
- 4 whole pickled herrings with soft roes
- 1 small onion
- 2 large apples
- 1 tablespoon capers
- 2 tablespoons chopped beetroot
- 1/4 pt vinegar
Soak whole herrings in cold water for several hours, remove skin and bones, separate and reserve the soft roe. Chop the fish. Peel and chop apples and onion. Add to the chopped beetroot and the herring. Mix thoroughly with the capers. Season with salt and pepper. Pound the soft roes to a paste, add the vinegar and pour over the salad, mixing well.
(a dish known as such in the South African Jewish community)
- 6 salt herring fillets soaked overnight
- 150g brown sugar
- 125ml vegetable oil
- 150g chopped apple
- 50g chopped onion
- 75g raisins (optional)
- 300ml vinegar
- 1 teaspoon prepared mustard
- 1 small tin (140g) tomato purée
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
Cut herring into bite-sized chunks. Pour sugar and oil into a mixing bowl. Mix well. Add all the other ingredients to the sugar and oil. In a large kilner jar, make a layer of herring, then of the tomato sauce mixture. Press down, close lid tightly and place in the refrigerator for 2 days. Serve cold.
- 6 whole fresh herrings, scaled and gutted, heads, tails and bones removed
- 1 medium onion finely sliced
- 250ml vinegar
- 125ml eater
- A few peppercorns
- 1 blade mace
- 1 bayleaf
- Salt & pepper
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon golden syrup
Sprinkle the herrings with salt and pepper, add a little onion to each one and roll from the tail, packing the fish side by side in a casserole. Sprinkle with the remaining onion, spices and herbs and add the vinegar, so it comes to the top of the herrings but doesn’t cover them. Sprinkle with sugar and add the golden syrup, cover loosely with foil and put in a moderate oven until simmering, then reduce to Gas Mark 2, 300F or 150C for 3 hours (or until a rich brown with liquid reduced by half. Do not allow the liquid to boil.
- Fresh herrings, scaled, gutted, split and boned
- Salt, pepper
- Lemon juice or vinegar
Season herrings with the salt and pepper, sprinkle with vinegar or lemon juice, place in pairs on a greased tin and cover with greased paper. Bake in a moderate oven for 15 – 20 mins.
- Fresh herrings, beheaded, gutted and scaled
- 2 teaspoons mustard
- 2 tablespoons vinegar
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- A little pepper
Score the herrings to the bone on both sides and place in a greased oven dish. Mix the other ingredients and pour over. Cover with greased paper and bake in a moderate oven for 20 mins.
Baked Herring with Apples
- 8 fresh herring fillets
- 3 or 4 potatoes
- 2 sour apples
- 1 tablespoon margarine
- Salt and pepper
Peel and thinly slice the potatoes. Peel and chop the apples. Thoroughly grease a baking dish. Arrange potato slices so they stand up round the sides of the dish. Place 4 fillets in the bottom of the dish, season and sprinkle with chopped apples. Repeat with a second layer, cover with sliced potato, sprinkle with salt and dot with margarine. Cover and cook in a moderate oven for 45 mins, removing the lid for the last 15 mins.
Baked Stuffed Herrings
- 8 fresh herring fillets
- 1 small onion
- 1 egg or a little milk
- Salt and pepper
- 50g breadcrumbs
- 25g melted margarine
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Grate the onion and mix with the breadcrumbs, margarine, parsley and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and bind with the egg or milk. Season the fillets with salt and pepper, spread stuffing on each, roll up and tie tightly with cotton. Put in a greased baking dish, cover with greased paper and bake in a moderate oven for 30 mins. Serve hot with baked potatoes, baked tomatoes (stuffed or plain) and/or hot beetroot. Serve cold with chopped capers, a little vinegar or lemon, potato salad and green salad. If you are working from whole herrings and there are soft roes, one of these can replace the margarine in the stuffing.
- 4 whole herrings, scaled, beheaded, gutted, split and boned
- Seasoned flour
- 4 tablespoons breadcrumbs
- 2 chopped gherkins
- 2 tablespoons chopped apple
- 2 sticks celery, chopped
- 1 pinch mixed herbs
- Salt and pepper
- Milk to blend
Dip the split herrings in flour. Mix all the other ingredients and place a little of this stuffing down the centre of each herring. Fold the two sides together, place in a greased dish, cover with greased paper and bake in a moderate oven for 30 mins.