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How to Cook Herring and Herring Recipes

Updated on March 11, 2016
Gordon Hamilton profile image

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

Herring are 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 under-rated, inexpensive fish.

Fresh, uncleaned herring
Fresh, uncleaned herring

Poached Herring on Bruschetta with Mediterranean 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
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

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.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Herring and seasonings are placed in large potCold water should comfortably cover herringPot is covered and left to coolCooled herring are removed to a plateHerring flesh is picked from bones in lumpsHerring bones are easily stripped cleanMediterranean salad ingredientsThick slice of bread for bruschettaHot toast is firstly rubbed with garlicPlated salad and bruschetta ready for herring
Herring and seasonings are placed in large pot
Herring and seasonings are placed in large pot
Cold water should comfortably cover herring
Cold water should comfortably cover herring
Pot is covered and left to cool
Pot is covered and left to cool
Cooled herring are removed to a plate
Cooled herring are removed to a plate
Herring flesh is picked from bones in lumps
Herring flesh is picked from bones in lumps
Herring bones are easily stripped clean
Herring bones are easily stripped clean
Mediterranean salad ingredients
Mediterranean salad ingredients
Thick slice of bread for bruschetta
Thick slice of bread for bruschetta
Hot toast is firstly rubbed with garlic
Hot toast is firstly rubbed with garlic
Plated salad and bruschetta ready for herring
Plated salad and bruschetta ready for herring

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
2oz Greek feta cheese
1 clove of garlic
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper to season
Torn basil leaves to garnish

Scale and gut the herring but otherwise leave them intact. Wash them under running cold water. Slice the onion 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 a 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.

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.

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.

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 with the herring and scatter the torn basil leaves as a final garnish.

21 Bespoke Scottish Fish and Seafood Recipes (21 Bespoke Recipes Series)
21 Bespoke Scottish Fish and Seafood Recipes (21 Bespoke Recipes Series)

Herring is just one of the fish and seafood types featured in this new, bargain e-book focusing on species found in and around Scotland. The book shows how to quick make authentic rollmops from herring fillets, as well as featuring mouth-watering recipes such as Cheese and Herb Crusted Salmon Fillet with Pea Puree, Pouting and Pollack Pakora, Trout en Croute with Mooli Mash and many more. Download your copy today!

 

Herring for Breakfast? They are Usually Called Kippers!

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

A kipper is simply a herring which has been halved lengthways, gutted, brined and cold smoked. Kippers are normally eaten for breakfast but can be enjoyed at any time of day. Many people don't like kippers, either because of the bones which 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

Kipper Style Cut Grilled Herring

SImply grilled split herring is served with bread and butter
SImply grilled split herring is served with bread and butter

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

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Small herring ready to be prepared kipper styleHerring is halved and the innards are removedHerring cut kipper styleHerring is grilled with a little butterBones should peel whole from the cooked herring
Small herring ready to be prepared kipper style
Small herring ready to be prepared kipper style
Herring is halved and the innards are removed
Herring is halved and the innards are removed
Herring cut kipper style
Herring cut kipper style
Herring is grilled with a little butter
Herring is grilled with a little butter
Bones should peel whole from the cooked herring
Bones should peel whole from the cooked herring

Ingredients per Serving

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

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.

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 similar 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, it must 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.

Pan Fried Herring Loin Fillets with Roast Potatoes and Broccoli

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

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.

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First loin fillet is removed from the herringSecond loin fillet is removed from the herringHerring fillets are floured for fryingShallow frying the herring loin fillets
First loin fillet is removed from the herring
First loin fillet is removed from the herring
Second loin fillet is removed from the herring
Second loin fillet is removed from the herring
Herring fillets are floured for frying
Herring fillets are floured for frying
Shallow frying the herring loin fillets
Shallow frying the herring loin fillets

This recipe requires that the potatoes firstly be cooked and cooled by boiling. Put them unpeeled in a pot of cold water, bring it to the 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 in to 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

Lay the herring on its side on a chopping board. With your filleting knife, cut in to the fish, holding it steady with your weaker hand, just behind the head and fin, 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.

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.

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.

Herring Fried in Oatmeal with Mint Buttered New Potatoes

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 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...

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Fins are cut off the scaled herringHead and tail are removed from the herringHerring backbone is pressedBackbone is removed from the herringFreshly filleted herringMedium oatmeal for coating herringHerring is coated in oatmealPan frying the oatmealed herring filletsPotatoes are swirled in butter and mintHerring fillets fried in oatmeal
Fins are cut off the scaled herring
Fins are cut off the scaled herring
Head and tail are removed from the herring
Head and tail are removed from the herring
Herring backbone is pressed
Herring backbone is pressed
Backbone is removed from the herring
Backbone is removed from the herring
Freshly filleted herring
Freshly filleted herring
Medium oatmeal for coating herring
Medium oatmeal for coating herring
Herring is coated in oatmeal
Herring is coated in oatmeal
Pan frying the oatmealed herring fillets
Pan frying the oatmealed herring fillets
Potatoes are swirled in butter and mint
Potatoes are swirled in butter and mint
Herring fillets fried in oatmeal
Herring fillets fried in oatmeal

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

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.

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 each side until done.

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.

Baked Herring with Red Pesto Sauce on Simple Salad

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

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

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The herring is firstly gutted and washedRed pesto sauce is spread on the herringHerring is baked in foilSimple salad bed for herringHerring is eaten straight off the bone
The herring is firstly gutted and washed
The herring is firstly gutted and washed
Red pesto sauce is spread on the herring
Red pesto sauce is spread on the herring
Herring is baked in foil
Herring is baked in foil
Simple salad bed for herring
Simple salad bed for herring
Herring is eaten straight off the bone
Herring is eaten straight off the bone

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

Preheat your oven to 375F/190C. Lay a large sheet of tinfoil on a baking tray and lightly oil.

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.

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.

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.

Take the herring from the oven and carefully unwrap. Use a fish slice to lay it on the salad and serve immediately.

3.5 stars from 12 ratings of these herring recipes!

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    • profile image

      Earlene 3 months ago

      I like these recipes.Are these for Atlantic herring only. I live in the Pacific Northwest and no one eats local herring. Salmon bait only. Any info on this?

    • Gordon Hamilton profile image
      Author

      Gordon Hamilton 5 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

      Hi, Nell. Yes, herring cooked in many ways are also a big favourite of mine. The poaching method sees the herring (or mackerel, or salmon) come out of the water so soft, moist and tasty that it is hard to believe it was cooked so simply. I hope you try it and enjoy it. Thanks for coming by and commenting.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

      Hi, now this is exactly what I like! Herrings and kippers, I liked the idea of how you cooked the herring, boil and leave it to cool and as it does, it cooks it properly, I have never heard of that before, your cooking hubs are so helpful, voted up all the way!

    • Gordon Hamilton profile image
      Author

      Gordon Hamilton 5 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

      Thank you very much, Attikos. I'm glad that the enjoyment of herring is alive and well in your part of the world. It's a shame they're not more widely enjoyed in different ways. I hope you like any of the ideas you try from this page.

    • Attikos profile image

      Attikos 5 years ago from East Cackalacky

      A delightful article. Herring are a strong tradition along the southern coast of North Carolina, too, where many Scots were exiled by the English in the eighteenth century. During the spring runs, you can walk into any restaurant in the area and get a meal of fresh ones. Voted up, and interesting.

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