Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Pickled Herring
Pickled herring Elisson style, with grated apple, lemon zest, and sour cream.

A young lady, one Anne Byrn, styles herself the Cake Mix Doctor. She takes packets of commercial cake mixes, adds her Sooper-Seekrit Magickal Ingredients, and knocks out a cake that might be worthy of the Sacher-Konditorei. In theory, anyway.

There’s also a show on the Food Network called “Semi-Homemade,” in which the host, Sandra Lee - whose name sounds suspiciously like that of a cheesecake - tinkers with prepackaged dishes available in your friendly local food market to make them seem kinda-sorta homemade.

The talented Ms. Lee is also perfectly capable of cooking entire dishes from scratch, although if her lasagna recipe is any indication, you may be better off eating Pop-Tarts. In the world according to Elisson, lasagna does not contain apple cider vinegar, tomato soup, or cottage cheese. Ms. Lee, it would seem, disagrees.

The concept of a dish being “semi-homemade” is at least understandable, which distinguishes it from “semi-boneless ham.” (As George Carlin once observed, “Does it have a bone? Yes, it has a bone.”) And there is nothing wrong with taking a commercially available food product and doctoring it up to make it better. To kick it up a notch, as Emeril Lagasse might say. I have been known to do it myself on occasion.

I don’t play doctor with cake mixes (now, there’s a perverse turn of phrase!) mainly because it’s just as easy to make cakes from scratch. But herring? That’s another story. I am not about to make pickled herring from Original Raw Materials as long as I can get a good quality product in a jar... and at Costco, a quart jar of very nice pickled herring can be found for a very reasonable tariff.

It’s very nice, but with a little minor tinkering, it can be better than very nice. It can be excellent.

Take that quart jar of herring - onions, spices, and all - drain off the pickling liquid, and dump it into a large bowl. Core and grate half of a crisp, tart, unpeeled Granny Smith apple and throw that in. Add the zest of one lemon. (I use a Microplane zester, which is wonderful at removing the yellow zest while leaving the bitter white pith behind. And if you can get Meyer lemons, even better.) Now add about a cup of sour cream - more or less to taste - and stir the whole thing together. Let it sit in the refrigerator for a few hours to allow the flavors to come together, and then serve it forth.

If you hate pickled herring, this recipe isn’t likely to change your mind. But if you like pickled herring, it may very well change your life.

And there is no need to thank me. It’s my job. I’m the Herring Doctor!

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