Rigby’s Encyclopaedia of the Herring

A work in progress with no end in sight

ROLLMOPS & BISMARCKS

On the popular German vinegar-based cures, together with an origin story for one of them and a basic recipe for the marinade

ROLLMOPS & BISMARCKS

Rollmops (from the German rollmopse) and Bismarck herrings are, in essence, very similar – fresh herring, salted overnight and marinated in white vinegar with spices, herbs and onions. Both involve filleting the herrings and leaving the skin on.

Rollmops use a double fillet with a small amount of marinated onion on top, sometimes one or two slices of gherkin, then, as the name suggests, rolling the fish up and fixing it with a little wooden pick. The rollmops are usually packed in jars topped up with the marinade, including the rest of the onions, the spices and herbs.

Bismarck herrings are trimmed into single fillets and then, usually cut into shorter lengths. In hommage to an origin story, these are still sold in small barrels as well as in jars.

The Origins of Bismarck Herring

The story goes that, at some point in the mid C19th Johann and Karolina Wiechmann of Stralsund began to produce pickled herring. Jewish involvement in the herring trade has a long and strong history. Whether involvement stemmed from an abiding love for the fish, or love from involvement, is lost in the mists of time.

Anyway, the money with which the Wiechmanns set up their business (which produced and sold other things as well) had apparently come from a win Johann had had on a lottery.  Karolina was the pickling specialist.

Filled with love for the Prussian Minister President Otto von Bismarck, Johann Wiechmann sent him a barrel of their pickled herring and he liked it.

With the unification of Germany in 1871, Bismarck became its first Chancellor. Wiechmann’s enthusiasm knew no bounds and he sent him another barrel with the suggestion that the pickle might be named after him. The pickle was obviously so good Bismarck agreed.

In a cruel twist of fate, Bismarckhering then became a generic name for herring fillets pickled in vinegar German-style. Reclaiming the delicacy for Stralsund, in 1997 there was a relaunch of the original recipe, which had fallen into disuse.

Other origin stories may apply.

Making Your Own

It’s worth noting that working from fresh herring, salt pickling recipes sometimes advise freezing the herring for 24 hours first to kill off any nematodes. It is obligatory for herring curers in Holland to do this, a requirement which has virtually eliminated Anisakiasis.

The infection has been largely eliminated in England by making fresh herring virtually unobtainable.

That having been said, salt the fresh/defrosted herrings overnight. Fillet them  according to whether you want rollmops or Bismarcks. Roll them up or cut them into large chunks and put them in a marinade, the contents of which can include:

  • White vinegar, dry white wine, water – proportionally 3:1:1
  • Thinly sliced onions and maybe some chopped carrot
  • A little salt
  • A selection of spices from white peppercorns, black peppercorns, mustard seeds, cloves, allspice, dried chillies
  • A bay leaf, possibly some dill
  • Juice of half a lemon

There are many variants.