pickled herring with seeds and nuts on top

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 in the Netherlands

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