Today I am going to let my inner Swede show and also start having some fun with the name of my blog.
When it comes to seafood, it seems like Americans want their fish like they want everything else, big and in a fancy display. This is great when it comes to larger fish like salmon, crustaceans such as lobsters, and even shellfish artfully arranged on a plate. But not all fish are created big and flashy for your dinner. Today I’d like to introduce you to a smaller fish popular among my ancestors and also the butt of jokes involving my heritage.
I believe in herring. Hopefully by the time you finish this post, you’ll believe too. Or at least be curious enough to give it a try.
Herring is a very popular fish among northern Europeans. It runs plentiful in schools along the Baltic and North Sea. It has been common fare among Scandinavian, Germanic, Finnish, Baltic, and English/Anglo-Saxon people for a very long time. You might also know them by another name: kippers. It’s not a very large fish though, so does not render itself to a fancy fillet on your plate in a restaurant. But that doesn’t mean you should not try to incorporate it into your diet. Swedes usually buy it jarred, sliced into small portions and cured with vinegar, dill, peppercorns, and other items. More on that in a moment. You can also get them smoked or salted.
Herring is also a very healthy fish. It is very high in omega-3 fatty acids, AKA the GOOD fat you want to have a lot more of in your diet. It is also one of the more sustainable seafoods, perhaps in part due to its not being too popular outside of certain regions in the world. When I was looking for material to incorporate into this post I turned up this article about a Dutch woman who claimed her longevity was due to her daily consumption of herring. 115 and died in her sleep. That is impressive.
It’s also very economical. If you happen to live in an area with an IKEA which boasts a food shop or a Scandinavian, Baltic, Dutch, or British food shop, you should have no trouble finding herring in a jar. It’s not expensive at all, and you only need 2-3 small pieces of a filled for a serving. Personally, I am partial to a black currant infused herring at my local IKEA. On the weekends I try to have a serving with my morning eggs and sourdough bread. It’s a very filling meal and I have a lot of energy for the day when I do.
If you’re not too keen on fish, you might be put off by herring’s strong taste. Keep trying. I was well into my 20s before I was willing to try it, and I loved salmon. Something about the little fish made me adverse, but one year at Yule I decided it had been too long and I would eat at least one piece. Let me tell you something, my mother makes some EXCELLENT herring, known as sill in Swedish. If you are REALLY curious I might post something like a recipe close to the holidays. Back to the strong taste, I encourage you to at least give it more than one try. Since I’ve begun eating pastured and grass-fed meats, even land meats have a very strong taste to me. I take it as a sign that the animals were healthy, and I will also benefit from their good life.
There is also the question of dioxin and mercury in fish from pollutions. Unfortunately I do not have any hard material to back up my saying that herring is still good for you. But to quote Nina Planck in Real Food: What to Eat and Why:
[T]he FDA advises children and pregnant women not to eat swordfish, shark, king mackarel, or tiefish. But it’s unwise to avoid fish altogether. Why? The benefits of fish to mother and baby are ‘enormous,’ saying Dr. Michel Odent, an expert in prenantal nutrition. Odent is concerned that most women fear excess mercury than understand how important fish oil is. In 2005, a study by the Harvard school of Public Health confirmed this view, arguing that the mercury warnings could cause pregnant women to eat too little fish, not only for the baby’s brain but also for their own health. ‘I think we’ve got two messages,’ said Joshua T. Cohen, who led the research. ‘If you’re not pregnant and you’re not going to become pregnant, eat fish. If you are pregnant or you are going to become pregnant, you should still eat fish, but you should eat fish low in mercury.” (p. 136.)
Given that herring feed on various forms of plankton, quite low on the food chain, worries about pollutants in its body are minor. Your body will also likely thank you for the extra omega-3s you’re putting in the system.
So what say you? Do you already enjoy herring or other small fish? Are you curious to give this a try? Is there another lesser known fish you enjoy that you would like to share?