The opportunity to eat fresh herring is quite limited, you will need to ask your fishmonger when they are usually available in your part of the country, but here in the south-west it is usually November.
When the opportunity does arise, the traditional recipe fried, in oatmeal, is hard to beat. Both male and female herring have roe and although both are edible, it is the soft male roe, known as milt, that is usually preferred to the hard, female roe. I give a rich, 18th century recipe for these below but they can be more simply served fried on toast having first dusted the roes in flour – spiced with cayenne if you desire.
Finally, I give a recipe for Kipper Pâté, very ‘70s, but nonetheless delicious for that. It begins by baking the kippers in the oven, which I find perfectly adequate for containing the smell and perform even if I am serving the kippers for breakfast (or lunch or supper come to that!)
HERRINGS FRIED WITH MUSTARD & OATMEAL
The traditional Scottish way with herrings is to coat them in oatmeal and then fry in bacon fat. They are then usually served with bacon. The oatmeal coating provides a good crisp contrast to the soft flesh, but here, the addition of mustard both cuts the oiliness and livens up the otherwise bland taste. I think a celeriac rémoulade as an accompaniment extends this textural and flavour contrast.
6 herring, scaled and cleaned (reserve any roe)
salt and pepper
1 large or 2 small eggs
1½ tablespoons of Dijon mustard
9 oz fine or medium oatmeal (or rolled oats)
sunflower oil for frying
You will need to cook this either in batches or in several large frying pans, alternatively you could use a roasting tin in the oven. Either way the fat must be very hot before you put the coated herrings in to prevent the coating falling off.
It is easier if you cut off the fins before coating. Have one plate ready with seasoned flour, then another with the egg and mustard beaten together, followed by a third containing the oatmeal. Turn the prepared herrings (and separately their roes) on each of these plates in turn before putting them into the hot fat.
Fry for a few minutes each side until nicely browned (the roes will take less time). Drain briefly on kitchen paper before serving.
A SEFTON OF HERRING ROES & ANCHOVIES
This is an eighteenth-century recipe, which is very rich. It makes a good hors d’oeuvre.
8 oz soft herring roes (from approx. 8 male herring)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 oz of butter
3 anchovy fillets
4 tbsps double cream
1 tsp capers, rinsed and chopped
salt & pepper
water biscuits (or other small crisp biscuit) and watercress to serve.
Season the herring roes with the lemon juice and some salt and pepper.
Heat the butter in a frying pan until foaming. Drain the lemon juice from the roes and add put them into the pan. They will firm up and curl as they cook which takes only a few minutes.
Process the cooked roes with the pan juices and anchovy fillets until smooth. Allow to cool slightly before adding the cream and finally the capers, which should remain in discernible but small pieces. Chill lightly but not for too long otherwise the texture becomes too firm. Spoon onto crisp biscuits and decorate with a fine dusting of cayenne pepper and a small sprig of watercress.
This recipe is from Rowley Leigh as served at Le Café Anglais.
2 large kippers
200g/7 oz unsalted butter
Juice of 2 lemons
3 tbsps double cream
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6
Place the kippers, skin side up, in an ovenproof dish and place 50g of the butter on top (leave the rest of the butter out at room temperature). Bake for 15 minutes then remove from the oven and leave to cool.
When cool, peel back the skin and discard it. Begin removing the flesh from the bones, putting it into a food processor as you do so. Make sure all the bones are removed, using tweezers for the pin bones in the belly.
Add the strained lemon juice, a twist of black pepper and 100g of the set aside butter. Process until smooth, add cayenne pepper and the cream, process again and check the seasoning. You are unlikely to need to add salt.
Put the pâtê into individual ramekins, melt the remaining butter and pour over each ramekin to seal.
Store in the fridge for up to a week.