Known as the ‘Silver Darlings’ North Sea Herring is one of the most sustainable types of fish around. The 2016 season is now underway and I'd really like to encourage you to include this tasty and nutritious fish in your shopping basket. Perhaps nowadays seen as a somewhat old fashioned fish the arrival of fresh herring in the shops used to be as great a feature of summer as finding fresh strawberries.
At the peak of the herring industry in the late 19th century the boats followed the shoals of fish around the coast and along with them followed an army of curers, merchants and herring lasses. Scottish herring quines were an integral part of the industry with girls as young as 15 gutting and packing the silver darlings. Working in crews of three, two would gut and one would pack the fish with salt into wooden barrels. It was cold, hard and dirty work.
Herring is an incredibly nutritious fish, packed full of minerals, vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids. Before coming up with my own recipe I had a rummage through my assortment of Scottish cookery book to see what they said about cooking it. Herring with Oatmeal was by far the most mentioned dish. Modern books cook them in rapeseed oil whist the more traditional call for generous quantities of butter or bacon fat. Traditional accompaniments are new potatoes and mustard sauce. Tatties and Salt Herring and Potted or Soused Herring (rollmops) also feature highly. There's no denying that pan-fried herring in oatmeal with a mustard sauce tastes absolutely superb and is hard to beat but there's so much more that can be done with this versatile fish.
For a traditional Herring in Oatmeal I make up a paste with English Mustard and a wee splash of milk. This gets brushed on the herring fillet before pressing on a coating of Pinhead Oatmeal. Pan Fry oatmeal side down in Scottish Rapeseed Oil until golden then flip over and fry the skin side.
"Fry me belly then my back said the herring to the fat!"
The Scottish Pelagic Sustainability Group are the organisation dedicated to ensuring a sustainable future for Scotland’s herring and mackerel sectors. They represent all sectors of Scotland’s pelagic industry, including catching, processing and marketing. In addition to overseeing the certification of fisheries to the Marine Stewardship Council eco-label standard, their activities include participating in a range of science-based initiatives to enhance understanding of these fish stocks.
I buy my herring fillets at a local fishmonger. They are great value for money, costing less than a pound per fillet. Sadly its not something that I've spotted in the supermarket as yet although they do sell them ready coated with an oatmeal crust. Simplicity is the key for cooking herring and I wanted to give them a more modern twist but keep a wee bit of tradition to the flavour. Capitalising on the good fats contained in all oily fish I added some more to my dish by means of Scottish Rapeseed Oil and Avocado. Tradition came by means of mustard. I used English but I reckon Wholegrain would work equally well.
Barbecued Honey & Mustard Herring with Spaghetti & Avocado
Serves 2 (easily doubled)
2 Herring Fillets
2 Tsp Mustard (English or Wholegrain)
2 Tsp Runny Honey
Splash of Scottish Rapeseed Oil
Dried Chilli Flakes (to taste)
Salt & Pepper
- Rinse the Herring under cold water and pat dry with kitchen paper.
- Cut each Herring fillet down the middle and thread it onto a metal or wooden BBQ skewer.
- Mix together the honey and mustard and brush onto both sides of each kebab then season with salt and pepper.
- Preheat a grill or BBQ and cook the Herring Kebabs for 8-10 minutes turning occasionally.
- Meanwhile cook your Spaghetti in boiling salted water according to the pack instructions
- Skin and de-stone the avocado and chop into small dice.
- Drain the pasta and stir through the chopped avocado and a splash of Scottish rapeseed oil. Season to taste with chilli flakes and freshly ground salt and pepper.
- Divide the spaghetti between two bowls and top with the Barbecued Honey & Mustard Herring Kebabs.
Don't be scared to give herring a try. Fresh and properly filleted you are in for a real treat. Our European cousins make the most of it in all its states. I was somewhat apprehensive about eating it raw in a bun with pickles as 'Broodje Haring' in Amsterdam but it was amazingly good. I've pulled together some further recipe suggestions below which cover fried, grilled, baked, pickled and raw from around the world. Go on, give the Silver Darlings a go.
- Fried Herring Fillets with a Lime Pepper Crust
- Grilled Herrings with Mustard & Basil Dressing
- Herring Rillettes In Romaine
- Pan Fried Herring in Polenta Crust with Summer Veg Salad
- Potted Herring
- Swedish Crispbread with Herring, Sour Cream and Chives
- Russian Herring Under Fur Coat Layered Salad
- Cider vinegar and orange rollmops
- Mediterranean-style herring linguine
- Devilled herrings with green sauce
- Herring fillet with a tapenade crust, sweet and sour tomatoes and butter sauce
Disclosure: This is a commissioned recipe for the Scottish Pelagic Sustainability Group. All views expressed are my own. Second photo by David Linkie reproduced with permission of SPSA.