Food Musings, Seafood and Chicken
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Further Fish Tales: Now It’s “Herring!”

pickled herring in Denmark

Pickled herring sailing off from Helsignor, Denmark

By now most know the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.” In my case it takes a village of friends and family to launch another book. Two Fridays ago a wonderfully supportive group whom I’m honored to have as part of my village celebrated the publication of my nonfiction book Herring: A Global History. Part of Reaktion Books‘ Edible Series, Herring  explores the historical, economic, cultural and environmental impact of this small, omega-3-rich, silvery fish.

herring books at the Towne Book Center

Checking out the boatload of “Herring” at the Towne Book Center in Collgeville, Penna.

When people hear the topic of my book, they invariably ask the same thing. “Herring?” There are always a few who misunderstand and ask, “Hairy?” No, I didn’t write about hirsute people but I’m sure that would be a fascinating topic, too.

Once everyone is on the same page about the subject, we get into what attracted me to it. After the publication of Fish Market I had a wealth of knowledge about seafood. I also had a desire to share more about a specific, historic and fascinating fish, the Atlantic and Pacific herring. Although a staple of Scandinavian, Central European and Japanese cuisines, it barely makes a mark in modern American cooking. Yet, had we lived at any point during the 17th through 19th centuries we’d certainly have eaten this fish. Its abundance was such that Colonial settlers fertilized their crops with it. As we tend to do with plentiful resources, we exploited it until few remained along either coastline. Although their numbers have rebounded, you rarely see the fish in American markets or menus.

Herring cart in Amsterdam

21st century “haring” and hot dog cart in Amsterdam

While herring has slipped off our radar, it maintains a presence in Europe, in part because it has such a long, rich history there. Amsterdam was the place where medieval Dutch fishermen brought in, cleaned and sold “haring.” In fact, many say that Amsterdam literally sits upon the bones of this fish. Cities such as Copenhagen and Yarmouth, England likewise owe their early days to it.

jars of pickled herring

Jars of pickled herring in an Oslo, Norway market

Today you’ll still find fresh, smoked or pickled herring in European markets. In fact, Denmark supposedly has more pickled herring cures than days in a year. What do people do with all that velvety, flavorful seafood? Serve it with rye or hearty brown bread, crackers and a shot of aquavit. Make it into open-faced sandwiches. Feature it in salads. In the case of fresh or smoked, they may grill, bake or pan-fry the fish or put it in hearty casseroles. Looking for a specific recipe? Check out this June 2015 post.

Kathy Hunt talking about fish at the Towne Book Center

Talking about fish, world history and food at the Towne Book Center on October 20, 2017

As I said so often with “Fish Market,” I hope you get hooked on herring. I certainly have! If you want to learn more about this fish, check out the following video. Like it? Give it a ‘thumbs up!’ Have a question or comment? Send it my way!


  1. R.L. Johnston says

    I’ve always enjoyed this series and look forward to the new releases. I’m happy to say that this book is as interesting as its predecessors and doesn’t disappoint. If you like reading about Herring, I’ll also recommend Oyster, Lemon, Nuts and Doughnuts.
    R.L. Johnston

  2. Tessa says

    Read about your signing on Facebook but couldn’t make this past Saturday. Does the store have any copies of your book left?

    • Kathy Hunt says

      Sorry you missed the signing! Thanks for asking about the book. McNally Jackson on Prince Street has “Herring” as does Barnes & Noble at 82nd and Broadway. You can also check at the B&N near you and at Kitchen Arts and Letters on Lexington between 94th and 93rd. Online it’s available at B&N, Amazon and Powell’s.

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