Monday, April 13, 2009

Pickled Herring...but what Wine?

In March and April, and then again in November and December the fishmonger at my local farmer's market has herring. For years I stared at the tan and silvery fillets without buying. Then I got into pickling. Last year at this time I first tried my hand at pickled herring, and now I'm hooked. The fish are cheap, incredibly healthy, and very tasty when pickled.

It's taken me three seasons worth of herring to figure out how to make them taste the way I want them to. Some recipes ask that you cure the fish in salt, then soak in water to remove the salt before pickling them. I haven't enjoyed them this way - no matter how many times I change the soaking water, the fish are always too salty. I've learned to reduce the amount of salt and sugar in the brine and slightly increase the vinegar to water ratio too. I add juniper berries and a few paper thin slices of lemon and the overall effect is alpine clean. There are many recipes for pickled herring, but here's mine:

Rinse herring fillets (half pound), pat dry, and cut in half on an angle. Bring to a boil 3/4 cup of white vinegar and 1/2 cup water with 2 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt and 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar; 6 juniper berries, 6 black pepper corns, and 1 bay leaf. Boil rapidly for 1 minute, pour brine into a non-reactive bowl to cool. Allow to come to room temperature (I speed this by placing the bowl into a larger bowl filled with cold water).While brine is cooling, put something jazzy on the stereo - I'm recommending Monk's Dream or Lee Morgan's Sidewinder, but it's your call. Slice a white onion very thinly and layer some of the slices at the bottom of a glass jar, then a slice of lemon, then cover with a layer of herring. Repeat. When brine is cool, remove the bay leaf, snap fingers to the music and pour into the jar. Cover tightly, put in the fridge, and forget about it for a few days.

Here's an important question - what wine do you drink with pickled herring? The Swedes pair with Akvavit. My Jewish ancestors I'm guessing paired mostly with Metamucil. Typical seafood wines like Muscadet or Chablis just seem wrong. Too much acid, and the flavors would grate on each other. Poulsard? Now there's a thought. But maybe that's just because I'm so nuts for Poulsard now that I'd drink it with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. A Blanc de Blancs Champagne? It would be overwhelmed. I think that this is one of the true wine pairing conundrums - what wine would taste good with pickled herring?

The other day I hit it, when there was merely one serving left in my jar, which I enjoyed tremendously as a late lunch. Ready for this? Any last guesses before I reveal? Fino or Manzanilla Sherry. There it is, and it works beautifully. The flavors are bold enough not to be overwhelmed, and briny enough to work with the fish. The oxidized nature of the wine somehow works with the pickle. Who can explain these things, really? Trust me, try it, even if you have to wait until November.


Weston said...

Sounds interesting I hear those Sherry's have a saltiness to it mm. What about something German, They eat pickles herring in germany right? Sweetness not work with Vinegars?

Ah food pairing Im still trying to figure it out.

Anonymous said...

A nice snappy German Pilsner can be found anywhere, is a fraction of the cost, would be a natural pairing.

Asher said...

"While brine is cooling, put something jazzy on the stereo. . ."

You have a stereo? How retro and hip. All the kids have Ipod docking stations these days.

Brooklynguy said...

weston - i feel like a chump - i never once considered that, something like an off-dry riesling.

and the beer idea makes perfect sense too. actually, i hear that vodka is the best thing for this dish.

hey asher - i have records too. and i still write letters and send them by mail.

Miki said...

this will be great paired with Vionier, is perpect not acid at all and a little sweet kick at the end.

If anyone interested there will be a Spring wine tasting
at Vinos en wyckoff free event
15+ great wine to taste

Howard G. Goldberg said...

In bygone days, when Bols gin could be found, it was a heavenly match with herring. I have substituted caraway-flavored Aalborg akvavit, Tanqueray gin, both sharply icy, and, especially successfully, Heineken beer. The small service bar opposite the main entry of the Oyster Bar, in Grand Central Station, somehow has managed to bring Heineken to exactly the temperature that cleanly slakes the thirst produced during the restaurant’s annual herring festival each spring.

Cliff said...


Brooklynguy said...

hi Howard - nice to see you around here. those sound like nice pairings. when exactly is this festival? have i already missed it this year?

hey cliff - sounds right too.

dh said...

I just finished off a big plate of herring and wasa for breakfast...with a cup of coffee. Perfection!

zlamushka said...

Hi Brooklyn Guy:

The herring looks fantastic, we get themj plenty here in COpenhagen. Wanted to make my own really bad, but am worried that the fish will rot or otherwise go bad and the bacteria wont get killed and we all die.

Any thoguht on that? It is a raw fish aftrer all....

Brooklynguy said...

Zlamushka - i buy very fresh fish from a fishing boat i trust, i pickle the fish that same day, and i make sure to use plenty of vinegar in the brine. i don't worry about it and i've never had a problem. i don't think we're all going to die from this. from something else, eventually, but not from pickled herring. especially not in Denmark.