Monday, June 14, 2010
New Holland Herring (Hollandse Nieuwe Haring)
Even before leaving New York for Amsterdam I craved herring. I spent a month in this city of canals three years ago, where herring, smoked mackerel, and nearly overflowing delicate glasses full of jenever, the ancient precursor to gin, were regular staples in my diet, and I missed them. Upon arrival, and all hazy jet-laggy, I made my way along peaceful canals to a herring cart for lunch, where I was thrilled to discover that the Hollandse nieuwe haring, the first catch of the season, were set to arrive on June 8th, two days before our departure. Oh, happy herring day, this June 8th.
The new herring arrives in late spring with fanfare. Many decorated ships come into port to deliver their catch; the most beautifully adorned ships win prizes; and later, the first batch of herring is auctioned off for charity, this year to a charity educating children about healthy eating and cooking. Before arriving at the fish stalls, the herring are cleaned of everything but their pancreatic glands, which are left intact to help the fish ripen and develop flavor, and then the fish are preserved in a little salt and flash frozen. At the fish stalls, the pancreatic glands are removed, the fish are thawed, and they are served raw, either whole and plain, or, cut up into bite sized pieces, and served with a little onion and pickle. To eat the herring, traditional Dutch tip their heads back, dangle the fish by their tails, lower them into their mouths, and enjoy the smooth silkiness in a few sumptuous bites. Nothing extra. No onion, no pickle.
I tasted the new herring three ways: plain, with small amounts of onion and pickle, and in a sandwich. To maximize the sensual texture and subtle flavor of this oily fish, I preferred the herring plain, but in a sandwich they made a filling lunch. These young herring have a fat content between 16 and 25 percent, and so are a valuable source of Omega-3 fatty acids. They are largely mercury free, sustainable, and with a small glass of corenwyn, a form a jenever, they make a heavenly meal. Free of the cloying sweetness of most herring, these fish taste purely and clearly like silky sensual herring fish silveriness.
I’m back in New York now, and so you may run into me at the Grand Central Oyster Bar where these North Sea herring are available until June 25th, or at Russ and Daughters, where you may see me at the counter, head tipped back, fish poised for consumption, where these lovelies are available until I eat them all. Nah, I’ll share. Come on over.