pickled herring recipe

Raw fish is a funny one. In Asia millions eat sushi and sashimi daily, relishing in the purity of the fish and the tang of accompaniments like pickled ginger, soy sauce and wasabi paste. The Scandinavians gorge on gravadlax, sliced thinly and draped onto blinis with a touch of horseradish, and South American ceviche is a food experience everyone should try.

While Oysters were once a staple of the poor in the UK, fewer of us enjoy their ozone-and-brine beauty because it’s never been cooked. This raw, pickled or cold-smoked fish culture just isn’t all that popular in the UK.

In The Netherlands, however, it is an intrinsic part of their national food identity. I’m talking, of course, of herring. It’s not hard to see why it’s so important once you taste it; tender herring fillets (skin and bones removed for the fussy) are completely lovely, with a punchy vinegar flavour balanced with horseradish, buttered new potatoes, dill and boiled eggs.

pickled herring

It’s also worth noting that herring, if caught in North Sea or North Atlantic, is one of the most sustainable fish available and therefore great for the future of seafood – as well as being good for you.

It isn’t just Holland that loves its fish this way; Scandinavia, too, is big on having it pickled, brined and soused, but seeing as no Scandinavian teams made the World Cup, we‘ll focus on a variation of the Dutch version of pickled herrings – both are very similar to anyone but the most patriotic of a-fish-iondos.

Eat this hot or cold.

Pickled herring recipe


  • 200ml cold water
  • 200ml dry white wine
  • 25ml white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 thinly sliced white onion
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 generous pinches of table salt
  • about 20 white peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds500g or 4-5 herring fillets – fresh is best, but (defrosted) frozen ones will do


Add everything except the fish into a medium-sized saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the herring to the pan, cover, and simmer on a low heat for 12-14 minutes, then remove from heat.

Allow cooking liquor to cool to a manageable temperature, then either drain and serve the fish warm, or add the fish to a kilner jar and top up with the liquor, onions, herbs and spices – adding a little extra white wine vinegar (2 tablespoons) for piquancy. Eat within 2 days.

Serve with buttered new potatoes sprinkled with fresh dill, quartered hard-boiled eggs and a creamy horseradish sauce.

Netherlands image by Ann Marie Michaels

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  • петя спасова

    this sounds interesting. i could make this,very easy-only make a marinade and add the fish.

  • Marjolein Heesbeen

    Well, I am a bit disappointed. This is not really a typical Dutch dish. I have never heard of anyone preparing it here in the Netherlands. It sounds more Scandinavian to me. When in the Netherlands, try a new herring with or without onions at a fish food stall.

    • Sophia Cullen Quigley

      Marjolein, I have to agree. I stumbled on this looking for a similar recipe to the one my Oma use to make in New Zealand when I was a child.
      The fish was placed raw in a jar in the fridge. I think it had chilli and raw onion with it but I’m not sure. I always loved watching the fish turn opaque as it pickled in the brine. The taste was just amazing.

      • ThePondmeister

        Hi Sophia
        I came across while looking for recipe and guidance on what type of “Herring” to use in New Zealand. What type of fish did your Oma use or failing that where and how were the “Herrings”

  • Tuuli Reinsoo

    well, doesn´t sound dutch to me either, more like russian-estonian. swedish is a bit different. but man just say pickled herring with onions and you get most estonians mouths watering. definitely herring over steak (not a meat eater here)

    • Seaangel

      I am not Estonian and my mouth is watering already :-))))) had Bismarck herrings as a treat on Sunday…and just bought 6 whole fresh herrings (pickling on the schedule tomorrow)! 😉

  • steve

    so much for raw pickled fish – the recipe says boil it for 12-14 minutes! I’m not going to waste good herring on trying this. In any case if you cook it for that long it will disintegrate.

    • Seaangel

      steve, the very first thing to do is to leave the fillets rest for 24 hours (or even longer if you remember to change the water) in salted water- for 5-6 large herrings I usually add 1 heaped teaspoon of grey/Celtic salt and cover the fish with just enough water, leave in the fridge…this will make the fish firm and it will withstand even quick cooking – however I do not think this is necessary if you are going to use the herrings up within 48 hours…I have tried to pickle herrings and sprats in so many ways- and they are delicious pickled “raw”- mind you, you have to use them up within a day or two or they will be gone…sooo… gut, fillet and wash the fish, leave it in salty “brine” for 24 hours…in the meantime prepare all the other ingredients- wine, vinegar, spices etc.- place in a stainless steel pot and boil hard for about 15-20 minutes, set aside and let cool down…slice some onions and carrots very finely…place at the bottom of a dish/jar, wash the fillets (check they are firm) and cut the into bite-sized pieces and cover with COOL wine-vinegar liquid (personally I prefer to use distilled vinegar instead of wine/wine vinegar, but whatever you use, always check the wine/vinegar liquid is not too overpowering/sour, too watery or not spicy enough)…put the dish into a fridge and let it sit for at least 12 hours. Now comes the time to FEAST! :-) Serve with crusty rye bread and slices of lemon or use the herrings in a salad (with finely sliced onions, cooked carrots and peas, cooked potatoes, dill and a BIG dollop…or two.. of quality mayonnaise, season to taste and ENJOY! it’s HEAVENLY! :-)

  • disqus_5GBUK9ABHW

    Raw fish still retain the essential amino acid content for maximum absorption. Would pickling do this? Without the worrying of contamination due to bacterial or parasite invasion? This is a concern. Also mercury content although with the more popular pickled herring this may not be an issue. Lower on the food chain. Thank you, any info would be greatly appreciated.

  • Seaangel

    Shouldn’t be the herring left in salted water for 24 hours BEFORE it is cooked?? Salt “bath” makes the fillets firm and flaky- what you suggest will turn a perfectly lovely fish into a horrible mushy yuck! :-(