For Love Of Herring: Why We Do Alaska Herring Week

The fabulous buffet line at the Midsommar Smörgåsbord at the Swedish Club for Alaska Herring Week 2017! Photo by Zachary D. Lyons.

So far this Alaska Herring Week, I have eaten 54 different herring dishes at 43 different establishments. Yes, I am the extreme, because, as Alaska Herring Week event coordinator, it is my job. But I also love it. Every dish is different. Seriously. Every chef has come at this from a different angle, so each of the 70+ dishes across 54 places (two grocers are selling to-go preparations) is unique.

Indeed, herring is a globally-eaten fish, and we have Alaska Herring Week dishes representing cultures from all over the world to prove it, including China, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Morocco, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, Vietnam and all over the US, from New England to New Orleans to the Pacific Northwest, and more. But nowhere did we see so much joy over the return of herring to our local plates than at the Swedish Club during Friday, June 23rd’s Midsommar Smörgåsbord.

A full house for the Midsommar Smörgåsbord at the Swedish Club for Alaska Herring Week 2017! Photo by Zachary D. Lyons.

The Swedish Club was packed on Friday for the feast, and while the menu featured other traditional Swedish fare, Alaska herring was the star of the show. But you had to be there to truly understand why. See, herring is the centerpiece of a traditional Midsommar Smörgåsbord. It is integral to the Swedish culture. It is, for Swedish expats, a taste of home. Unfortunately, herring has been just as unavailable to the Swedish Club for their Midsommar Smörgåsbord as it has been for everyone else in Seattle. This was the first time in years that their solstice feast feautred it. All night, we had one person after another come up to we organizers of Alaska Herring Week and thank us profusely, talk about their family’s history of fishing, about their boats and their pickling plants. They waxed poetic about their favorite places to get herring in Sweden, Denmark and Germany, about childhood memories and more. They came and shook our hands, and they gave us a rousing ovation. It was a delicious feast, but it was more so a moving experience. Putting herring back on their plates was not about sustainability or economic development to them. It was about history, about culture. It was about home. Alaska herring on their Midsommar Smörgåsbord brought them home. And that is why we do Alaska Herring Week.

RECIPE: Swedish Pickled Herring Plate from Old Ballard Liquor Co.

Swedish Pickled Herring Plate from Old Ballard Liquor Co. for Alaska Herring Week. Photo courtesy Old Ballard Liquor Co.

The Swedish Pickled Herring Plate from Old Ballard Liquor Co. for Alaska Herring Week, features pickled herring five ways. While the perfect Midsommar treat, it is available year-round at Old Ballard, though flavors may vary. Wanna make this at home? At Old Ballard Liquor Co., you can also purchase the same Alaska Herring fillets being used by Seattle’s top chefs for Alaska Herring Week! Once you’ve done that, here’s the recipe:

Swedish Pickled Herring Plate (Allow 7 days)

Step 1: Salt the Herring

Make a 25% salt brine using the following proportions, and scale up to whatever quantity is needed:

25g Salt per 100mls of Water

Bring the solution to a boil until the salt dissolves, and then cool in the refrigerator to 35-40 degrees.

Refrigerate and brine the herring fillets in the salt brine for three days.

Step 2: Make the Herring Pickle Brine

Add the following ingredients to a large pot and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally:

  • 1 C Water
  • 2 C White Sugar
  • 2 C Distilled White Vinegar
  • 2 Tbl Allspice Berries
  • 4 ea Crumbled Bay Leaves
  • 1 Clove

Turn off the heat and allow to steep for 30 minutes.  Do not remove spices.  Chill overnight to 35-40 degrees. Brine can be refrigerated and should be used within 60 days.

Step 3: Soak and Peel the Herring

  • Soak the salted herring for one hour in fresh, cold water
  • Change the water and soak the herring for a second hour.
  • Peel the skin off of the fillets and trim off any large rib bones or bruised portions.

Step 3: Pickle the Herring

Cut the fillets into serving size pieces

Drain the water, put the pieces into a plastic or glass (nonreactive) container and cover with pickling brine.

Refrigerate and allow to pickle for a minimum of three days

Step 4: Flavored Pickled Herring

In a clean, dry container, layer the pickled herring with spices, fruit or vegetables.  Cover with fresh brine and allow to sit for a minimum of 24 hours.

  •     Onion Herring
  •     Lemon Herring
  •     Dill Herring
  •     Nectarine-Cardamom Herring
  •     Etc…

Step 5: Cream Herrings

For cream herrings, drain the pickled herring well and make a cream of:

  • 1 Cup Mayonnaise
  • 1 Cup Sour Cream
  • Powdered spices to taste

Mix the cream with the herring and refrigerate.

  •     Sour Cream
  •     Curry Cream
  •     Horseradish Cream
  •     Garlic Cream
  •     Etc…

Midsommar Smörgåsbord Herring Plate from the Swedish Club

On Friday, june 23rd, the Swedish Club celebrates one of the most important holidays on the Swedish calendar, Midsommar, marking the summer solstice, the longest day of the year — kind of a big deal when you live as far north as the Swedes do! Midsommar celebrations often include a feast, called a smörgåsbord, which usually features herring prominently. Hmm…. a feast that stars herring… during Alaska Herring Week. Yup, that works for us!

Pickled Fried Herring On Hardtack from the Swedish Club for Alaska Herring Week. Photo courtesy the Swedish Club.

The Midsommar smörgåsbord at the Swedish Club features herring five ways, including this Pickled Fried Herring On Hardtack, above, as well as Dill and Tomato Herring Rollups, below.

Dill and Tomato Herring Rollups from the Swedish Club for Alaska Herring Week. Photo courtesy the Swedish Club.

For the complete menu, as well as some interesting background information on herring and Alaska Herring Week, click here to see the Swedish Club’s June 2017 newsletter. The Midsommar smörgåsbord is only $30, but it sells out fast! Make your reservation now by calling 206-283-1090 or emailing rsvp@swedishclubnw.org.

Pickled Citrus Herring from the Swedish Club for Alaska Herring Week. Photo courtesy the Swedish Club.

Pickled Citrus Herring, above, will also be featured on the Swedish Club’s Midsommar herring plate.

Fried Herring with Apples and Beets from the Swedish Club for Alaska Herring Week. Photo courtesy the Swedish Club.

Also on the herring plate, Fried Herring with Apples and Beets from the Swedish Club for Alaska Herring Week.

Pickled Midsummer Herring with Sour Cream and Herbs from the Swedish Club for Alaska Herring Week. Photo courtesy the Swedish Club.

Pickled Midsummer Herring with Sour Cream and Herbs rounds out the Swedish Club Midsommar herring plate for Alaska Herring Week.

RECIPE: Fried Herring and Mash Potatoes from the Swedish Club

Fried Herring and Mash Potatoes for Alaska Herring Week for Wednesday Dinner at the Swedish Club. Photo courtesy the Swedish Club.

The Swedish Club, on Dexter Avenue North, is one place you would absolutely expect to find grand herring dishes any time, whether or not it is Alaska Herring Week. So it is no surprise that they are going all in for Alaska Herring Week 2017! Of course, there is the added benefit of Alaska Herring Week coinciding with the Summer Solstice, or as they know it, Midsommar. After all, the longest day of the year is a big deal in a country so far north.

The Swedish Club will feature multiple traditional herring dishes during Alaska Herring Week, beginning with their Wednesday Dinner on June 21st, featuring this lovely Fried Herring and Mash Potatoes! And here is the recipe, should you like to try making it at home! (And stay tuned for more of their featured herring dishes.)

RECIPE: Fried Herring & Mashed Potatoes

For 4 servings, you’ll need:

  • 8 fillets of Herring
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 pinch of white pepper
  • 1/2 cup dark rye flour
  • 1-2 tbsp butter for frying
First, brine the herring fillets in this mixture:
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • Brine for 2-3 hours and pour off

Rinse the Herring and pat dry with paper towels. Salt and pepper the fish and dip both sides in the rye flower.Fry the Herring a couple of minutes on both sides in butter. Serve with mash potatoes, lingonberry jam, vegetables or small salad.

•••

If there are leftover fried Herring, you can pickled it with this brine:

  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1.5 cup water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 5 whole allspice
  • 1 sliced yellow onion
  • 1 sliced carrot

Heat up all ingredients except the vegetables until sugar has dissolved. Let it cool down a bit before adding the onion and carrot. Pour it over the fried Herring. It will keep for at least a week in an airtight container in the fridge, and you can enjoy the Herring on dark rye bread or Hardtack
(Crackers). It’s a perfect lunch on a hot summer day.