The Silver Darlings of the North
Herring was once the most abundant fish in Scotland, until over fishing with ring or purse nets and factory ships almost wiped them out in the 1970s. A fish which was available everywhere and was eaten on an almost daily basis virtually disappeared overnight.
With a fishing ban and restrictions imposed since then, they have recovered a little, but are still scarce, being available fresh, usually between June and September. The quantities of herring were so vast that the fish was usually preserved to last through lean times when no fish were available or to allow it to be transported. Kippers are the most well known version of the herring, using the smoking process to preserve them. Rollmops are another preserved version, still available today if you know where to look.
Herring is a delicious, nutritious fish
For me, here’s the really interesting thing about herring.
One fish provides about 75% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin D.
When you think about the way our diets have changed over the decades, the fact that herring became less available due to over fishing in the 1970s, new foods and ingredients became available the UK after joining the European Union and our diets changed. The increase in cases of Multiple Sclerosis and the discovery that vitamin D is a key dietary element to prevent it, for me, shines a light on the humble herring and goes a long way to answering the question ‘Why?’
Do oily fish contain similar health benefits?
The answer is yes, but sometimes in different proportions. For example salmon skin & bones contain vitamin D, but not the flesh.
All oily fish are good sources of omega 3, selenium and B vitamins. Mackerel provides 100% RDI of vitamin D, but then it’s a bigger fish.
There are many ways of preparing and cooking herring, from the most simple old Scots dish of ‘Tatties an’ Herrin’, where a pot of potatoes is boiled until tender, drained and put back on a low heat. Fresh herring fillets are then laid skin side up on top of the potatoes and steamed for 10 to 15 minutes until ready, then served straight from the pot.
Pickled Herring, Potted Herring, Soused Herring, Herring Fried in Oatmeal… the list of traditional recipes is almost endless.
Herring is the Scottish equivalent to the Mediterranean sardine. It’s an oily fish, high in omega 3 fats, with fine lateral bones. For those who are put off with bones, pickling or sousing with vinegar dissolves the bones and makes the fish easier to eat.
Pan frying your herring in oatmeal gives it a delicious crispy crust and the bones become insignificant.
Having found some nice, plump herring fillets in my local fish shop, here are a few recipes to whet your appetite.