Old fish, new fish - herring is hip, high-end
Granddad's favorite, pickled or smoked, is sustainable and rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Herring is hip and it's high-end.
Long a favorite of Jewish grandfathers, herring is showing up on the menus of hip and elegant New York restaurants.
Laurent Manrique serves lightly smoked herring, imported from France, with boiled potatoes at Millesime, his French bistro in Manhattan.
"Surprisingly, smoked herring and quenelles de brochet are our two most popular appetizers," he said.
Herring with wasabi and yuzu kosho paste is one of the haute Jewish dishes at Kutsher's Tribeca.
Benoit and Brasserie Julien both serve French smoked herring with potatoes. And a notable dish at the dearly departed M. Wells in Queens was smoked herring Caesar salad.
Herring used to be pickled in only wine sauce or cream sauce for Jewish holidays. No more. Now it's in dill sauce, in curry sauce, with pickles, with mustard sauce.
"Whole Foods has much to do with this increased interest," said Richard Schiff, the general manager of Acme Smoked Fish in Brooklyn, a main supplier in New York.
"They want not just one or two herring jars, but lots." And lightly smoked French herring is also now available to consumers at Whole Foods and other stores.
"Year to year we track numbers of herring," said Josh Russ Tupper, a fourth-generation owner of Russ & Daughters, the gold standard for cured and smoked fish stores in New York, with at least 11 different herring varieties.
"For us, the herring business has been increasing 5 to 10 percent a year."
Feature Foods International in Brampton, Ontario, one of the major sources of herring in North America, processes more than 15,000 barrels, each weighing about 220 pounds, every year. Years ago, it looked as if its customer base would disappear.
"It is true that in Minnesota and Florida, when every old Jew or Scandinavian dies, we lose a case of herring," said Lorne Krongold, the president and owner of Feature Foods.
"Luckily, in the '80s and '90s, the new immigration, with the breakup of the Soviet Union, replaced the aging generation."
Now demand is even higher. To appeal to new tastes, the company has started selling smaller jars of herring with private labels for companies.
"My grandfather Shlomo was really the herring legend," said Krongold, 57, known as "the herring tsar."
From the herring business in Poland, his grandfather went to Canada in 1927 and sold barrels of heavily salted herring from Norway and Iceland, and then from the Maritime Provinces in the '30s.
After World War II, Lorne Krongold's father, Joseph, started bottling pickled North Atlantic herring from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland.
"We process the herring in our sauces, and places like Russ & Daughters further potchky with the product to put their spin on it," Lorne Krongold said, using a Yiddish word for tinker.
Herring's resurgence comes as the sources and quality of much of the world's seafood have come under suspicion. Once one of the most abundant fish in the world, it is still caught from sustainable wild stocks. It is also inexpensive and high in omega-3 fatty acids.
The fish course through the North Atlantic in schools of tens of thousands. They are caught in enormous nets called purse seines, and then cured with a sprinkling of salt. Later they are soaked in fresh water and pickled, a style always favored in Scandinavia, Germany and Eastern Europe.
In France and the Netherlands, herring is often served fresh. In Normandy, it is also lightly smoked with oak.
This year, the Jean Claude David brand of French herring is available to consumers in vacuum-packed containers in the United States, thanks to Herve Diers, who recently bought the company and is trying to save a tradition.
Diers has been building more fireplaces to smoke the fish, which is caught off the coast of Normandy near Boulogne-sur-Mer in late summer.
"In the 1950s, over 150 artisanal smokers smoked their herring," Diers said. "Today only seven remain."
In Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, catering chef Peter Shelsky is pickling his own at his Shelsky's Smoked Fish, located in a former lingerie shop with its original tin roof.
He buys tubs of salted herring and soaks the fish for two days, then pickles it in white vinegar, sugar and spices. He was recently fiddling with a pumpkin-spiced herring.
"I find that processed pickled herring is too sweet for me," Shelsky said.
"Earlier on, when I first opened the store, I made a foie gras and pickled herring terrine," he said. "I think we might revisit it down the road."
Shelsky sells three sandwiches with herring, including the Brooklyn Transplant made with smoked salmon, apple horseradish, cream cheese and pickled herring salad served on seedless rye.
In Washington, D.C., at the homey Scandinavian restaurant Domku Bar and Cafe, hipsters dine on a smoked herring pie and a herring scramble.
"I learned to love herring when I was in the Peace Corps in Poland," said Kera Carpenter, the chef and owner. On a trip to Scandinavia, she tasted pickled herring, dipped in bread crumbs and fried, delicate and delicious.
With this dish, Carpenter has not "reduced all the beauty of the world to a small pickled fish," as Diane Keaton's herring merchant husband did in Love and Death, but it's a very popular appetizer.
Smoked Herring With Fingerling Potatoes and Chives
Makes 4 servings
4 smoked herring fillets, about 7 ounces total
1 cup milk, more if needed
1 small carrot, peeled, cut into rounds
1/2 small onion, peeled and sliced
1 bay leaf
1 shallot, sliced
1 teaspoon juniper berries, crushed
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
6 slices lemon, quartered
Fine sea salt and black pepper to taste
11/2 cups canola or grape- seed oil, divided use
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
4 medium fingerling
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
1. In a bowl, cover the herring with milk; cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.
2. Drain the herring and pat dry with a paper towel. Put the herring, carrot, onion, bay leaf, shallot, juniper berries, thyme, garlic, lemon slices, and salt and pepper to taste in a shallow bowl. Gently stir them together, making sure not to break the herring fillets. Pour 1 cup grapeseed or canola oil over the fish and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight or up to 10 days.
3. Stir together the mustard and vinegar. Whisk in the remaining 1/2 cup oil, season with salt and pepper to taste, and set aside.
4. Put the potatoes in a medium pot and cover with salted water. Bring to a boil over a high flame, lower heat to medium, and cook until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, about 10 minutes. Drain. While still warm, slice the potatoes in half, arrange on a serving plate and season with salt and pepper.
5. Spoon some oil from the herring mixture over the potatoes and scatter with a few slices of the onion, carrots and lemon. Sprinkle with salt to taste. Cut the herring fillets into bite-size pieces and place on top of the potatoes. (Discard any remaining oil.) Drizzle the mustard vinaigrette over the herring and potatoes. Sprinkle with the chives and parsley, and serve.
Per serving: 310 calories, 19 grams protein, 42 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams sugar, 8 grams fat, 43 milligrams cholesterol, 285 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber.
Fried Pickled Herring
Makes 6 servings
12 pickled herring fillets
3 large eggs
1 cup fresh white bread crumbs
Black pepper to taste
Vegetable oil for frying
1/2 cup diced red onion
1/2 cup diced tomato
1/2 cup diced cucumber
1. Dry the herring well with paper towels.
2. Beat the eggs in a wide shallow bowl. In another bowl, stir together the bread crumbs and black pepper, to taste.
3. Pour the oil into a large frying pan, until it is 1 inch deep. Over medium heat, bring the oil to 375 degrees.
4. When the oil is hot, dip both sides of the herring in the egg and then the bread crumbs, making sure that it is entirely covered.
5. Carefully place the fillets in the oil, making sure not to overcrowd the pan, and fry them for 45 seconds to a minute, until they are golden brown.
6. Drain and serve immediately, topped with a sprinkling of red onion, tomato, and cucumber.
Per serving: 193 calories, 10 grams protein, 18 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams sugar, 9 grams fat, 110 milligrams cholesterol, 429 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.