When I was growing up, we always had pickled herring around for the New Year, as well smoked fish. I always thought it was a cultural superstition but later figured that it was a cure for a hangover since those were the days of big New Year’s Eve bashes held at people’s houses. By happenstance, on this New Year’s Eve, I was standing in a long line of shoppers at a purveyor of Polish food at our local farmers’ market, waiting my turn to buy some homemade sausage, when I saw a sign for Russian herring. The herring wasn’t pickled: it was a bright-eyed whole 12-inch fish that had been gutted. For the $2 price, I couldn’t resist the experiment to come.
I took it home, rooted around for how to pickle it and came up with a simple sugar and vinegar solution. After filleting the fish to remove the bones and get two types of even pieces (inner and outer), I soaked it in water overnight and then overnight again in the sugar and vinegar solution. It was amazing, delicious and refreshing. I will definitely do this again.
Keep the proportions of vinegar to sugar but vary the amount according to the amount of fish. You want the solution to cover the fish.
I plated this Scandinavian-style, with diced pickled beets and cucumbers, hardboiled egg yolks and whites chopped separately, and a garnish of pickled carrots and dill. For an appetizer or a light supper, I served it with Russian black bread and sour cream with dill.
Fresh herring, gutted, filetted and cut into 2-3 inch lengths (mine yielded ½ lb of fish meat)
¾ c white vinegar
¼ c granulated white sugar
1 small onion, thinly sliced
Optional: 1 carrot, peeled and sliced
6 -10 black peppercorns
4-6 whole allspice berries
1 bay leaf
After cleaning and preparing the fish, soak it overnight in cold water in a covered bowl in the refrigerator. (Even when very fresh, herring is often salted on the boat to preserve it since it contains fat that can turn the fish rancid.) The next day, prepare the sugar and vinegar solution, stirring to dissolve the sugar and adding the other ingredients. Drain the water from the herring and cover it with the solution. Again, soak overnight in a covered bowl in the refrigerator. It keeps for quite a while (at least a month) and continues to pickle. Serve cut in small pieces with dark rye bread, pickled carrots and radishes (if not added to the solution), hard boiled eggs (whites diced and yolks grated), pickled beets, fresh cucumbers and other condiments.