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Herring Recipes: How to Cook Herring

Gordon has been sea fishing and cooking since childhood. He loves coming up with tasty ways of cooking his fresh catch when he gets home.

Baked herring with red pesto sauce is one of the recipes featured on this page.

Baked herring with red pesto sauce is one of the recipes featured on this page.

The Benefits of Herring

Herring is a dark-fleshed, oily fish—not dissimilar to mackerel in some respects—and very rich in omega-3 fatty acids. This means that these silver darlings (as they were once commonly known in parts of the UK) are a particularly healthy type of fish to eat as well as being delicious. They are found in both the Northern Atlantic and Northern Pacific, as well as various offshoots of those oceans, in only slightly different genetic forms. This means that they are available fresh in a wide variety of geographical areas.

So plentiful and popular were herring at one time off the East Coast of Scotland that whole communities grew up and thrived around the herring fishing industry, the fish, directly and indirectly, providing employment as well as food. Although those times are long gone, herring is still something to be cherished and enjoyed, and this page is devoted to looking at some tasty recipes and serving suggestions for this frequently much underrated, inexpensive fish.

Fresh, uncleaned herring

Fresh, uncleaned herring

Herring is poached and cooled before the flesh is picked from the bones and it is served on a slice of bruschetta with an accompanying Greek style salad.

Herring is poached and cooled before the flesh is picked from the bones and it is served on a slice of bruschetta with an accompanying Greek style salad.

Poached Herring on Bruschetta With Mediterranean Style Salad

This is probably the most foolproof way of cooking herring or any similar oily fish. It is a method originally used for cooking salmon, where the fish essentially cooks to perfection unattended in the cooling liquid.

Ingredients Per Serving

  • 2 small, fresh, whole herring
  • ½ small white onion
  • 1 tsp whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • Thick slice of bread
  • 1 medium tomato
  • 2” piece of cucumber
  • 3 or 4 green lettuce leaves
  • 6 pitted black olives
  • 2 oz Greek feta cheese
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and black pepper to season
  • Torn basil leaves to garnish

Instructions

  1. Scale and gut the herring, but otherwise, leave them intact. Wash them under running cold water. Slice the onion in half and add it to a large soup or stock pot along with the peppercorns and sea salt. Lay the herring on top and pour in enough cold water to ensure the fish are fully covered. Put the pot on high heat, just until the water begins to reach a rolling boil. Turn off the heat completely, carefully slide the pot to a cool part of your stove, and put the lid on. Leave for a couple of hours until completely cool. The herring will cook to perfection in the residual heat.
  2. When the herring are cool, carefully remove them from the water with a large slotted spoon to a plate. The very thin skin can either be gently rubbed off with the ball of your thumb or left intact but you should pull off and discard the fins. The flesh should peel easily from the bones in bite-sized chunks.
  3. Shred the lettuce leaves and roughly chop the tomato and cucumber. Season and mix together before laying on the serving plate. Half the olives, crumble the cheese and scatter over the salad.
  4. Toast the bread on both sides until golden. Rub the top side with a peeled and lightly crushed garlic clove before drizzling with olive oil and seasoning with salt and pepper. Lay it on the plate beside the salad, top it with the herring and scatter the torn basil leaves as a final garnish.
A kipper is simply a brined and smoked herring.

A kipper is simply a brined and smoked herring.

A little butter is added to the kipper before it is grilled.

A little butter is added to the kipper before it is grilled.

Herring for Breakfast? They Are Usually Called Kippers!

A kipper is simply a herring that has been halved lengthways, gutted, brined and cold-smoked. Kippers are normally eaten for breakfast but can be enjoyed at any time of the day. Many people don't like kippers, either because of the bones they contain or their powerful, salty taste. While it is necessary to leave the bones in herring when they are smoked to allow them to keep their shape, we can very easily eliminate the saltiness and make a kipper-like herring dish at home.

Grilled kipper is ready to serve.

Grilled kipper is ready to serve.

SImply grilled split herring is served with bread and butter.

SImply grilled split herring is served with bread and butter.

Kipper Style Cut Grilled Herring

This really simple herring recipe is essentially a herring cut, as it would be when making kippers and grilling to be served for breakfast. This means that the saltiness associated with kippers is eliminated.

Ingredients Per Serving

  • 1 whole herring
  • Little bit of butter
  • Salt and white pepper
  • Bread and butter to serve

Instructions

  1. Wash and scale the herring and pat it dry with kitchen paper. Hold it up, resting on its backbone, with your weaker hand, and cut from the centre of the belly up towards and right through the head. Turn through 180° and cut from the same midpoint down to and through the tail. Pull out the guts and again wash and pat dry.
  2. Lightly grease a grill pan with oil and lay the fillet on it, skin side down. Season with a little salt and white pepper and scatter with some small pieces of butter. Cook under a hot overhead grill for about five minutes (time will vary depending upon size) or until done. Serve with some fresh bread and butter or whatever else you may choose.

How to Fillet Herring and Similar Shaped Fish

There are two principal ways to fillet herring and other similarly shaped fish. The first way is to remove the loin fillet from each side and the second is to open the fish up and remove the backbone by applying pressure with your hands. The next two recipes feature each of these methods in turn.

When you are filleting a fish, particularly by the first method, it is imperative that you use a suitable type of knife. The knife must not only be very sharp, but it must also have a flexible blade to allow you to make the necessary manoeuvres. A blunt knife or even one with a rigid blade will lead to disaster.

Herring loin fillets are floured and shallow fried before being served with pan roasted potatoes and broccoli.

Herring loin fillets are floured and shallow fried before being served with pan roasted potatoes and broccoli.

Pan Fried Herring Loin Fillets With Roast Potatoes and Broccoli

This recipe includes instructions on how to remove the herring loin fillets from the whole fish, but you could, of course, ask your fishmonger to undertake this task on your behalf.

This recipe requires that the potatoes first be cooked and cooled by boiling. Put them unpeeled in a pot of cold water, bring it to a boil and simmer for half an hour. Drain, return to the pot and leave to cool completely. Rub off the skins and start to deep fry just before the herring fillets are added to the frying pan.

The broccoli is simply broken into florets and poached in simmering, salted water for ten minutes.

Ingredients Per Serving

  • 1 whole herring
  • Flour for dusting
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 6 to 8 baby potatoes (or as required)
  • ½ small head of broccoli

Instructions

  1. Lay the herring on its side on a chopping board. With your filleting knife, cut into the fish, holding it steady with your weaker hand, just behind the head and fin, with the knife angled slightly toward the head until you feel the bone. Carefully twist the knife to point towards the tail and use a back and forward cutting motion to slice along the bone and remove the first fillet.
  2. Turn the fish over and use exactly the same procedure to remove the second loin fillet. Wash the fillets in cold water and pat dry with kitchen paper.
  3. Add some oil to a non-stick frying pan and gently bring up to a medium heat. Scatter some flour on a dinner plate and season with salt and pepper. Pat the fillets on both sides in the flour and shake to remove the excess before frying for a couple of minutes each side until done.
Fresh herring fillets are coated in oatmeal and gently shallow fried before being served with boiled, baby new potatoes coated in butter and fresh garden mint.

Fresh herring fillets are coated in oatmeal and gently shallow fried before being served with boiled, baby new potatoes coated in butter and fresh garden mint.

Herring Fried in Oatmeal With Mint Buttered New Potatoes

Herring filleted by this method is the way you are most likely to buy many different types of fish from fishmongers or supermarkets. This incredibly simple recipe also holds very special significance for me from my childhood. There is no other culinary creation of any type that brings back as many fond memories for me of those days. I remember my gran insisting that the herring be from the waters of Loch Fyne and only Ayrshire potatoes would do. There were only two months each year when both fresh ingredients were widely available (July and August), so this was a frequently enjoyed summer treat.

The potatoes are simmered in boiling, salted water for half an hour or until soft. They are then drained and swirled in butter with freshly chopped garden mint. Nothing should be added to this dish as it is described below, no accompanying vegetables—nothing else is necessary.

Ingredients Per Serving

  • 2 small herring
  • 2 tbsp medium oatmeal
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 6 to 8 new potatoes
  • Butter
  • ½ tsp freshly chopped mint
  • Malt vinegar (essential)
  • Salt

Instructions

  1. Wash and scale the herring. Snip off the fins with scissors and cut off the heads and tails. Slice the fish all the way along the belly side, being careful not to go all the way through. Turn the herring over to have the opened side down and gently push down on the backbone along the full length to flatten. Turn the herring over again, and you should be able to carefully remove the backbone by gradually easing it free with the tip of a sharp knife.
  2. Wash the filleted herring but do not dry them this time. Put some oil in a frying pan and heat. Scatter the oatmeal on a plate and pat the herring fillets in it on both sides. Fry for two to three minutes on each side until done.
  3. While the herring are frying, drain the potatoes and swirl them in the butter and mint. Plate up and season the herring with malt vinegar and salt.
Red pesto sauce is spread on a herring before it is baked in the oven.

Red pesto sauce is spread on a herring before it is baked in the oven.

Baked Herring With Red Pesto Sauce on Simple Salad

Red pesto sauce is an Italian creation, normally served with pasta. It is, however, deliciously served with many types of fish, including herring.

Ingredients Per Serving

  • 1 whole herring
  • 1 tbsp (approx) red pesto sauce
  • 3 or 4 green lettuce leaves
  • ½ small white onion
  • 6 pitted black olives
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Freshly chopped basil to garnish

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 375F/190C. Lay a large sheet of tinfoil on a baking tray and lightly oil.
  2. Slit the herring on its underside from the anal fin to the head. Remove the innards and wash under running cold water. Lay it on a chopping board and make three deep slits on each side. Spread half the red pesto sauce on one side of the herring, then lay it (sauce side down) on the foil.
  3. Spread the remaining sauce on the second side of the herring then loosely wrap the foil to form a loose but sealed package. Put the tray in the oven for twenty minutes.
  4. Shred the lettuce and finely slice the onion. Mix together and season before spreading on a serving plate. Cut the olives in half down through the centre and scatter over the top. Drizzle with olive oil.
  5. Take the herring from the oven and carefully unwrap. Use a fish slice to lay it on the salad and serve immediately.