2 years passed already since I wrote a long post about Polish culinary traditions for Christmas in my family. I shared with you my family recipe for Christmas borscht with cep raviolis – “uszka”.
Christmas 2012 approaches. I had the idea that some of you might be interested in other traditional family recipes for Christmas Eve. In the post which was published nearly 2 years ago, you can see the picture of the herrings. I have just realized how impossible it is that I have not written any other posts or recipes about those stinky, little fish!
I have the impression that only a few people like herrings. I can understand why. I love to eat them, but I never buy, from any shops, herrings that are already prepared for salads because they usually are far too sour for me.
I do not eat herrings all the time, but I do eat them quite often in the autumn and in the winter, meaning, once a month maybe. Sometimes I prepare them in a traditional way, just with cream and onion; sometimes more twisted like, for example, with some sweet additions: raisins, curcuma or garam masala. My favorite herrings are so-called “matjes” - herring filets stored in brine in order to preserve them.
Herrings which are sold nowadays are, in my opinion, less salted than those which I remember from my childhood. Consequently, they do not require to be soaked in water or milk for a long time – just one hour or two is usually sufficient. Abroad, you can buy them in food stores carrying Russian and Polish food items. The best ones are sold straight from big barrels and as I once read, they do not contain any preservatives.
I also like spicy Russian herrings – the only city where I can buy them now is Warszawa – they are sold in large metal cans. On the other hand, quite recently, I discovered Dutch pink matjes, which are simply delicious and do not need anything else but just a slice of bread.
French people do not like herrings, I believe. They have smoked herrings, which are sold in plastic sleeves, and this is just fine. The rest of what I tried in France was not good – in general, they were very acid. To be frank, I prefer matjes than rollmops which are marinated in vinegar and awfully acid.
The recipe below is my family recipe. I prepare them usually only twice per year – before Christmas Eve and before Easter. Salted matjes, marinated for one night in a delicate, vinegar based marinade, water, onion and spices become very delicate on the next day. They are not too acid and not salty. The addition of good cream or even some thick, natural yoghurt is a must, as well as some finely chopped sour apple. I prefer herrings served with some heavy cream than those in oil, but I must tell you that herring in extra virgin organic colza oil (described as an “olive oil of the North”) and hot potatoes, is also great. The recipe below usually goes in my family with a simple potato – gherkin salad.
And what are you favorite herring recipes?
Herrings with Cream
4 big or 8 small salty herrings’ fillets (“matjes” - available in barrels in stores carrying Polish food)
100 ml milk
4 tablespoons white vinegar
1 big yellow onion, peeled, washed and finely sliced
4 grains allspice
6 grains black pepper
1 bay leave
2 sour apples
200 ml sour cream
1 l jar
Soak the herrings: Put the herrings for at least two hours into a bowl with some cold water mixed with milk, to get rid of the brine.
Prepare marinade: In a saucepan, boil 250 ml of water with white vinegar. Add onions and spices: allspice, black pepper, a bay leave, cloves and boil for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and put aside to cool down. Strain the marinade, reserve the liquid and onions with spices separately. You can store herrings in the marinade up to 5 days (but always add the cream just before serving). You can season the dressing with some fresh dill. For this salad, you can use herrings in oil. In such a case, discard the oil with a paper towel so you will not have to soak them in milk beforehand.
Prepare the salad: Remove the fish from the soaking water. Dry it with a paper towel and cut into 2 cm slices. Wash and peel the apples, wash them, remove the seeds and make fine slices. Take one or two jars, depending on their size. Make one layer of herrings in the bottom of the jar, then add one layer of onion with spices and apples on top. Repeat the layers in the same order and at the end pour the marinade into the jar. Squeeze a bit, to remove excess of the air. Close the jar and put it into the fridge overnight. Before serving, strain the marinade. Mix the herrings with the sour cream right before serving.
Serve with potato salad.
Potato – Gherkins Salad
6 potatoes (around 400 g), washed, but not peeled
400 g sour cucumbers
1 bunch chives, washed, dried and finely chopped
6 tablespoons of the olive oil / good vegetable oil