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.
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.
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.
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.
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!