Monday, December 26, 2016

The Great Herring Contest

Many years ago, when traveling in Scandinavia, two young Australian women told me of their disgust with the pickled herring sandwiches sold on nearly every street corner. They were as plentiful as hot dog stands in the US.

I was stunned by their repulsion and told them that I liked pickled herring. "Eww," they cried. "How can you eat raw fish?" I only hope that they never traveled to Japan . . .

Pickled herring isn't really raw. It is in the sense that it's not cooked, but the pickling kills bacteria and preserves the fish. I grew up with pickled herring, so it seemed perfectly natural to me.

For some reason, my mother always served pickled herring as an appetizer for Christmas dinner. I haven't made it for years because pickled herring is hard to find in our area. But this year I stumbled upon a small jar of it with onions in wine sauce. It was Vita brand, but I didn't plan to blog about it until . . .

Another member of the family made it, too! So we had two pickled herring dishes and, of course, a contest ensued. Interestingly, she had my mother's recipe, and I did not. I went by memory and taste. She used by my mom's recipe with Granny Smith apples and added dill, vinegar, and pickles. Her was more piquant and mine was milder.

And the result? Drum roll, please. We both won! Everyone had a preference but they were both good. Which only goes to show how recipes evolve over time and that we should all feel free to take liberties with them.

There were onions in the jar of herring that I bought, so I did not add additional onions. However, onions do belong in this recipe, so if there are none in the jar, then thinly slice 1/4 of a small sweet onion and add it.

Ideally, herring should be made a day ahead of time so the flavors can mingle.

Herring in Sour Cream

8-12 ounces pickled herring in wine sauce
1 large apple (sweet and crisp, like Pacific Rose or Fuji)
1/4 small sweet onion (only if no onion in herring jar)
1/2 cup sour cream

Reserve 1 tablespoon of the liquid in the jar. Pour the remaining contents into a sieve and drain. Place in a bowl. Peel the apple. Cut into four wedges and core. Slice each wedge into 3 long pieces and cut them into 1/3-inch chunks. Add to bowl. (If there are no onions in the herring jar, then thinly slice 1/4 of a small sweet onion and add.) Add the sour cream and reserved liquid to the bowl and mix.

Serve on a bed of lettuce.


  1. I have to tell you. Herring, both pickled and in cream sauce are a big item among many of the old timers in Orthodox Jewish Temples. When my kids were very small one of the old men would feed my children little shreds of it from pieces he's taken the bones out of. So my now grown up kids still like it. I never got the taste for that or lox (smoked salmon).

    1. I love them both, NoraA! But you're so right. I started eating them as a child.

  2. We always had pickled herring on New Year's Eve--my grandmother said it would bring good luck in the New Year!

  3. Ohhh! Maybe I should make more for New Year's Eve!

  4. My parents were immigrants from the Netherlands. Pickled herring was a staple in our home when growing up. Fortunately, they are readily available in our region. My husband tolerates them, our children dislike them.

  5. I remember going to my great-aunt's house around Christmas where she always had a large crystal bowl of herring on the table. She came with her family from Sweden in the 1800's. Mom was first generation Swedish-American.