I have written numerous times on these Electronic Pages about my love for smoked fish. There are, however other ways than smoking to preserve a fish, pickling being one of them.
Herring is the fish most of us associate with pickling. It can be put up any number of different ways: aside from pickling, it may be smoked (e.g., kippers) or fermented (e.g., surströmming, the notoriously stinky Swedish fish). But ask a random sample of people if they’re familiar with herring, and pretty much anyone who answers in the affirmative will be thinking of pickled herring - the kind that comes in a jar with onions and wine or cream sauce.
Years ago, I took a lengthy sojourn in the Netherlands, a place known for its love of the herring. While there, I was able to indulge my appetite for herring in uncountable different forms. To this day, I have no idea what most of them were... but they were, for the most part, delicious. And not a one with cream.
For years, there was one type of herring that held almost no appeal for me (not counting surströmming, which I hope never to encounter) - and that was matjes herring. As a youngster, I could barely stand it, owing to its mushy, oily texture; its myriad of hair-fine bones; its weird spices; its vague sweetness coupled with extreme saltiness. Give me a jar of herring and onions in wine sauce any day - matjes herring (form the Dutch maatjesharing, for soused herring) was always just plain nasty.
My whole attitude toward matjes changed during our trip to Israel last year. There, it was a regular feature at our breakfast buffets: I decided to give it a chance. Lo and behold, this was not like the matjes herring with which I had been familiar. This stuff was not overly salty or full of little bones. It had subtle, interesting flavors. Why, it was... quite tasty!
A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon some prepackaged matjes at the Buford Highway Farmers Market. Emboldened by my positive experience in Israel, I tried it... and once again, I was delighted. Who knew?
Look, this stuff isn’t for kiddies. It is, to put it delicately, a much more strongly flavored item than, say, Vita creamed herring in the jar. But I’m a grownup now - or at least, I’m old enough to pass as one - and so foods with a bit of, ahhh, character do not put me off.
What’s this? You say you prefer creamed herring? Not a problem... but if you want to kick that stuff up to the next level, get a jar of it and add in some shredded Granny Smith apple (with the peel) and lemon zest. Shove it back in the jar and let it sit for a day or two before eating. You’ll be glad you did!