Pickled herrings

Serves 4


8 herring fillets
500ml mild red wine vinegar
6 allspice berries
2 cloves
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp mustard seeds
3 bay leaves
3 tsp light brown sugar
2 teaspoons orange zest
2 onions thinly sliced into rings
½ handful of chopped dill
250ml water
a pinch of salt


Put the vinegar, sugar, water and salt in a pan and bring to the boil for around 2 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved. Take the pan off the heat and add the allspice, cloves, peppercorns, mustard seeds, bay leaves and orange zest then allow it to completely cool. Now layer the herring fillets in a dish with the dill and onion then pour over the marinade. Put in the fridge and allow it to pickle for around 3 days. The fish should last up to a month in the fridge if transferred to a sealed container. Serve with rye toast or lightly salted boiled new potatoes.


Pickled herring is a Scandinavian classic, but it is also found in various guises throughout northern Europe. It is a great way of demonstrating the value of ‘cooking’ by pickling in vinegar. The acidity of the vinegar breaks down the fat and protein of the fish to make it more digestible when eaten. Often when pickles are made these days strong over-sour distilled or malt vinegars are used. These are too sour and actually obstruct digestion through their excess acidity.

What this recipe demonstrates is that, where an intense acidity and sourness is found in a dish, even in milder vinegars, it’s astringency needs balancing by other, expansive flavours, in particular aromatic/spicy and sweet. In this case a sweet profile is achieved with sugar, allspice and onion whilst bay, orange zest, cloves and dill are all aromatic and mustard seed and black pepper add a more intense spiciness. Together they create flavour combination that is ideal for summer, predominantly sour and refreshing with underlying sweet, aromatic and spice to nourish and stimulate the gut.


Pickling such as this can also be done with mellower cider vinegar, which is often the locally available option for Britain. Also try adding some juniper berries for a little bitterness.

Whilst this is suggested for summer eating, these pickled fish are also suitable for other seasons. It is best to cook them in colder weather, either by flash frying in olive oil or by popping them in an oven for 10 minutes. Perhaps with an aromatic root vegetable bake?