In case you’re wondering (ha!), local herring (or alewife) are flatish fish between 10-15 inches long, that migrate by the millions each year, gathering offshore to begin their difficult trek up coastal streams and rivers to their traditional spawning grounds. There’s one in my town (and I’ve seen the herring running there), and also one in Plymouth, in the stream that runs behind the gristmill there that was managed by one of my ancestors. Local agencies in Plymouth have worked together to improve the herrings’ passage at that spot, on a “notched weir-pond fishway.” Whatever that is.
Oh, all right, back to food. I decided I wanted to try cooking herring, because it’s herring season. Which turned out to be complicated. It’s difficult and in some cases illegal to harvest the herring during their run upstream. I asked my helpful fish-vendor at my local supermarket if herring was available and she looked at me like I was crazy. Which left me with only one option: pickled herring.
I do like pickled herring, courtesy of those same Swedish step-grandparents I mentioned earlier. But most of the recipes I found were either for how to pickle your own (assuming you find herring), or how to use the finished product in a salad. I am not ready to face salads—it’s still cold out there. I finally found one recipe, originated by Emeril Lagasse (who included the recipe for pickling your own, which he borrowed from a Massachusetts source), later repeated by Martha Stewart. I bought a jar of pickled herring in white wine.
Pickled Herring Casserole
1 Tblsp butter
1 cup fine dried bread crumbs (I used panko)
1 Tblsp finely chopped fresh parsley
2 oz. grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
1 pound potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 cups thinly sliced onions
2 Tblsp four
Pickled herring (the recipe called for six whole ones, but mine were already cut up—I used one jar)
1-1/2 cups whole milk (or cream)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a glass or ceramic baking dish with butter.
If like me you are using pre-made pickled herring, rinse it in water and drain.
In a small bowl, combine the crumbs, parsley and cheese, and season with the salt and pepper. Mix well.
Season the potatoes and onions with salt and pepper. Place a layer of potatoes on the bottom of the casserole, and add a layer of onions on top. Sprinkle 1 Tblsp of flour over the onions.
Place half the herring on top of the onions. Repeat, making a second layer of potatoes/onions/herring.
Pour the milk slowly over the contents of the casserole. Sprinkle the crumb mixture over the top, and dot with any butter you have left.
Cover the top with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Then remove the foil and bake for another 15-20 minutes, or until the crumb topping is nicely browned. Test with a sharp knife to see if the potatoes are cooked through.
My assessment? Not bad. The herring adds a nice tang to the dish. I think next time I’d increase the cream to milk ratio to create a bit more sauce. Actually you could make this with almost any preserved fish (smoked salmon, for example), and it’s quick and simple.