July 25, 2011
One of the memories I have from my many trips to the Netherlands is standing outside on a very cold morning and eating raw herring filets. It was from a vendor that worked out of a small trailer by one of the waterways outside of Amsterdam. I purchased a paper plate with two very fresh filets on it. From the condiments tray I took some finely diced onions. As I was instructed by my friend, Ton, I dragged a filet through the onions, tilted my head back, and dropped the whole shebang in my mouth. I smiled like the proverbial cat that just ate the goldfish.
Now, many years later, I’m in a large Korean grocery store purchasing a few ingredients for a class and I decide to checkout their fresh fish. There, starring at me from a plastic‑wrapped, Styrofoam tray was three fresh, whole herring. The price was cheap, so I decided to buy them. When I came home, I gutted and fileted the herrings. I decided that I couldn’t satisfactorily recreate that morning in Holland, so I decided instead to pickle the herring filets.
There are two ways to pickle herring: soak the filets in a brine solution so that the salt causes lactic acid fermentation, or soak the filets in vinegar so the acidic condition kills bacteria and preserves the fish. I decided to use the latter method.
I’ve done a bunch of pickling, but this was the first time for herring so I looked at a number of sources for guidance. I decided to use a variation of a recipe in The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich.
I laid my herring filets in a small, rectangular baking dish along with half of a small, very finely diced red onion; a small, finely julienned jalapeño pepper; and a dozen or so black peppercorns. With the aid of an immersion blender, I dissolved 60 g (5 T) granulated sugar in a combination of 350 ml (11⁄2 c) white‑wine vinegar and 125 ml (1⁄2 c) filtered water and poured the mixture over the herring. There was sufficient pickling liquid to cover the herring filets. The dish was tightly covered with plastic wrap and set in the back of the refrigerator. A week or so later I started to eat the pickled filets.
I first tried serving the herring with some of the vegetables it was pickled with, but I decided that it tasted better with fresh, finely diced red onion. Each filet was cut into bite‑sized pieces. Each serving was constructed from three of these pieces stacked with some fresh, very finely diced red onion in‑between and over the top. A few drops of the pickling liquid sprinkled over the top completed the presentation.
The resulting amuse‑bouche was not the same as what I had eaten that morning long ago, but it was, nonetheless, still tasty.