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Basic Pickled Herring

2 herrings in salt brine

1 cup wine vinegar

2/3 cup sugar

2 bay leaves

1 red onion, sliced

6 – 8 whole peppercorns

6 – 8 whole cloves

  1. Remove head, split, bone and fillet the herrings.

  2. Cover with water for about 12 hours to remove the salt. The water should be changed several times. If you use half milk and half water, the salt will leach out somewhat faster.

  3. Remove fillets from water or milk, rinse and drain.

  4. Cut in half-inch strips and place in a shallow bowl.

  5. Mix vinegar and sugar.

  6. Add bayleaves, peppercorns and cloves.

  7. Pour the mixture over the herring.

  8. Cover with the sliced red onions.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 5-6 hours before serving. Keeps up to two weeks in the refrigerator. You can use this herring and marinade as a base for a variety of colorful and tasty herring dishes. Herring in wine sauce can be used as a substitute.

Green Herring

1 herring fillet, cut in ˝ inch  pieces, or a 12 oz jar of herring in wine sauce

Herring marinade

1 tbsp finely cut dill weed

1 tbsp finely cut chives

1 tbsp finely cut parsley

Arrange herring pieces in shallow bowl and pour over some marinade. Cover with the herbs.

Red Herring

1 herring fillet, cut in ˝ inch pieces, or a 12 oz jar of herring in wine sauce

Herring marinade

1 tbsp pickled beet juice

1 red onion, chopped

1 tbsp chopped pickled beet

Arrange herring shallow bowl. Mix beet juice with some of the marinade and pour over the herring. Place the chopped red onion and beet in stripes diagonally over the herring. Garnish with dill sprigs.

Red Herring Trivia

This red herring dish will not lead anybody down a false trail, (unless accompanied by too much aquavit). But where does the expression red herring come from? There are several theories about the origin of the phrase. The old way to preserve herring was to cure them by heavy salting and smoking, which turned them red and gave them a pungent smell. One story has it that British fugitives in the 17th century used the scent to divert the authorities’ bloodhounds from their trail. According to another version, the fish was tied to a string and dragged through the forests to teach hunting dogs to follow a scent. Clever poachers hit on the idea to drag a red, pungent herring across the trail and away from the prey so that they could steal it.


When a Scandinavian recipe mentions anchovy it doesn’t mean the same anchovy as in America. The fish the Scandinavians call anchovy isn’t even a real anchovy but a small herring, named sprat in English and Sprattus Sprattus in Latin. Sardines and Scandinavian type herring are the same sprat prepared using different methods, marinades and spices.

The real anchovy lives in the Mediterranean and is called sardell in Swedish recipes. This distinction is very important. Only the Scandinavian anchovy sprats should be used for dishes calling for anchovy sprats and NOT the more salty Mediteranean anchovy that is usually found canned in American supermarkets.

Sun Eyes or Bird Nests

Anchovy sprats are used in very decorative dishes called eyes or sometimes bird nests. Each serving consists of an egg yolk surrounded by concentric circles of chopped anchovy sprats or herring, onions and other ingredients.

 Traditionally, the egg yolks used in these dishes were raw. This is not recommended today, because of the risk of salmonella contamination. Pasteurized eggs in the shell are now available in some stores. If you can find these, you can safely follow the traditional recipe. Otherwise, poached egg yolks should be substituted.

Often each eye is served on a small plate of its own, and if a raw egg yolk is used, this is mixed with the rest of the ingredients as a sauce when eaten.

Sun Eyes can also be used as sandwich toppings on round slices of dark bread. You may find  poached egg yolks more easy to handle on sandwiches than raw. If you don’t have a round cookie cutter, you can use an empty tin can to make the round sandwiches.

Sun Eye or Bird Nest

4 servings

4 poached egg yolks

4 slices round soft pumpernickel or dark rye

butter or margarine

12 fillets of anchovy, chopped

chopped egg whites

2 tbsp cut chives

Carefully separate yolks from whites and poach them, preferably in an egg poacher. Let yolks cool. Cut out round sandwiches with large cookie cutter or empty tin can. Butter bread and place yolks in the center of the sandwiches. Surround them with  chopped anchovies and eggwhites and sprinkle with cut chives.

You can find more recipes for Sun Eye sandwiches, as well as many other herring sandwiches, in Simple Splendor--Scandinavian Style Sandwiches, published by Skandland PressTM.

Click here for a Beet and Herring Salad