Tom Kitchin: Taste herring done well & be hooked

Tom Kitchin. Picture: Greg Macvean
Tom Kitchin. Picture: Greg Macvean
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HERRING is one of those underrated foods that we tend not to make the most of in this country. Scotland has a wonderful history of herring fishing and a huge number of the well-known fishing villages along the Scottish coast used to be known as herring ports before they became coastal holiday destinations.

Traditionally, here in Scotland, herrings were filleted, coated in seasoned pin head oatmeal and fried with butter or oil, then usually served with crushed, buttered boiled potatoes. Many people today overlook herring in favour of fish at the top of the food chain like cod, tuna and haddock – those that tend to have a milder flavour.

But demand for these species is causing over-fishing and we would do well to try experimenting with different types of fish. In fact, herring – as well as other forage fish like sardines and anchovies – are in abundance and not only is enjoying them tasty and delicious, it’s also sustainable.

If you taste herring done well, you’ll be hooked. Herring is available year round, but the flavour is best from spring to autumn. These little fish, also known as silver darlings, are relatively inexpensive and boast so many health benefits. Herring is renowned as one of the best sources of vitamin D which is incredibly important in our climate because we don’t get enough of it from the sunlight. It’s also packed with proteins and omega-3 fatty acids which help prevent heart disease and improve brain function.

They’re fanatical about herring in many Scandinavian countries. It’s something my wife Michaela has grown up eating and enjoying in her native Sweden and this delicious sauce recipe is one that was used by her Swedish grandfather, Sven.

This salty, shimmering bright fish is incredibly versatile and you can enjoy it salted, smoked, pickled, chargrilled, fried or baked. You may have also heard of rollmops, which are pickled, filleted herrings that are rolled around pickled cucumber, and kippers which are split, gutted and whole smoked herring. Preserving herring can be a great way to eat it because you can keep it handy in the fridge for times when you need a quick meal or snack. Some of my favourite flavour matches for herring include mustard, dill and tomato.

Herring can be served in so many ways if you buy fresh fish from a traditional, trusted fishmonger and prepare it well. If you are looking for sustainable herring look out for those labelled with the MSC blue tick.


Swedish sauce

3 tbsp Dijon mustard

30ml honey

1 tbsp sugar

½ tsp salt

1 pinch black pepper

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

200ml oil

handful chopped dill

handful chopped spring onions


For the herring follow the method for soused herring.

To make the sauce

Mix together the mustard, honey, sugar, salt, pepper and vinegar. Start to whisk adding the oil drop by drop or pouring it in very gently until the sauce thickens – an electric whisk is ideal. Add the chopped dill and an extra sprinkle of newly crushed pepper for added flavour.

To serve

Take the herrings from the marinade, still rolled, and place on a plate. Set the marinade aside.

Add the carrots and pickled red onion from the marinade. Garnish with chopped dill and spring onion.

Cover generously with the Swedish sauce and serve with fresh potato salad.


4 herrings (8 fillets)

3 carrots, peeled and sliced into thin rounds

2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced

1 bouquet garni

1 star anise

10 peppercorns

1 tbsp salt

1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed

1 red onion, peeled and chopped in 3mm thick strips

125ml white wine vinegar

For the garnish

chopped chives and chopped spring onion


Clean and gut the herrings, remove the heads and pin bones, then fillet. Or ask your fishmonger to do all this for you.

Put the carrots, shallots, bouquet garni, star anise, peppercorns, salt and garlic in a pan with 1 litre of cold water and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the red onion and white wine vinegar and simmer for another 15 minutes. Take off the heat and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.

Gently roll up the herring fillets and secure each one with a toothpick. Add the herrings to the stock, which should now be nearly at room temperature, and bring back to a simmer. Poach the fish for 10 minutes, taking care not to let the liquid bubble. Leave the herrings to cool in their marinade and then refrigerate, still in the marinade, overnight. Take the herrings, still rolled, and place into small kilner jars, then pour over the pickling liquid and vegetables. Garnish with chopped chives and spring onion. They’re good chilled or at room temperature.