Herring spoils so fast it is almost always eaten salted, pickled or smoked. I’ve eaten (and made) herring in all these forms, but there is something special that makes pickled herring so popular, especially in Northern Europe. I think it’s because the acidic twang of the vinegar and lemon counteract the rich fattiness of the herring fillets — these fish are among the foods highest in healthy omega-3 fatty acids. The addition of spices, sugar and onion add a personal touch.
This particular recipe is for Swedish glasmastarsill, or glassblower’s herring. Why it is called that I have no idea. Best I can tell it is because this pickle is always put up in glass jars, with the silvery skin of the herring facing outward. Let’s face it, folks: For a pickled little bony fish, this is as pretty as it gets.
Most pickled herring recipes start with pre-salted herring — the kind that come in cans. If you use these, skip the salt in the initial brine and soak the fish in fresh water overnight. They’ll still be plenty salty.
Having some salt in the fish is important: I once made this recipe with fresh herring that I failed to brine, and they turned to mush within 2 weeks. A disaster. You need the salt to extract extra moisture from the fish and keep them firm.
I like these just as a snack, with pumpernickel or rye bread, potatoes of any kind, hard-boiled eggs — or just on a cracker.