08 March 2010

Harengs saurs — more about herring

This is the post I had nearly finished composing last Saturday night for posting the Sunday morning of the blackout. It's more than a week late now:

I don't know how I missed it. I've been trying to find out for weeks what the differences are between smoked herring (hareng saur), mild smoked herring (hareng fumé doux), and plain smoked herring (hareng fumé au naturel). The information was in the Larousse Gastronomique all along.

Hareng saur on the left, after soaking overnight in milk;
hareng fumé doux on the right, straight out of the package

The Larousse Gastronomique says:
Le hareng subit un salage dont le degré dépend de la nature du hareng saur que l'on veut préparer. Les harengs saurs de conserve doivent avoir au moins 8 jours de sel ; les harengs saurs demi-sel, ou doux, sont des harengs frais salés de 24 à 48 heures...
Avec des harengs à peine saurés, fendus dans toute la longueur et ouverts, on fait ce que l'on appelle des kippers...

Pour faire des filets de harengs saurs au naturel, si appréciés actuellement, des ouvrières dites épiocheuses coupent la tête et la queue du hareng, l'ouvrent pour enlever l'arête, le débarassent de sa peau. Elles retirent ainsi les filets, qui sont entièrement mangeables, sans aucun déchet. Ces filets sont ensuite mis dans des petites boîtes de bois de 200 grammes, ou en paquets d'un kilogramme.
My translation:
The degree to which herring is salted depends on the product you want to end up with. For long-term storage, the herring called hareng saur needs at least 8 days in salt; mild, lightly salted herring (hareng demi-sel, ou doux) is fresh herring salted for only 24 to 48 hours...
Lightly salted herrings, split lengthwise and spread open, are called "kippers"...

To make smoked herring labeled au naturel, which is very popular nowadays, the workers called épiocheuses ("skinners"?) cut off the herrings' heads and tails, cut them open to remove the bones, and take off the skin. They are left with the fillets, so there is nothing to throw away when you eat them. These fillets are packed in tins weighing 200 grams, or in one-kilogram packages.
Filets de harengs saurs et pommes de terre à l'huile

I bought fillets of both hareng fumé doux and harengs saurs. I soaked the hareng saur fillets in milk for 24 hours, and then I tasted them alongside the mild smoked herring, which was definitely still milder in taste — less smoky and less salty.

I decided to make the classic recipe with the smokier and saltier herring: a salad of warm, steamed potatoes with oil and vinegar and the herring fillets. In French, that's Filets de hareng fumé, pommes à l'huile. Make the vinaigrette you like — I put Dijon mustard, cider or wine vinegar, and vegetable oil in mine. Pour some over steamed or boiled potatoes while they are still warm, and serve with the herring fillets and some fresh herbs like parsley or cilantro.

Potatoes in vinaigrette dressing, with smoked herring fillets

The fish tasted fishy and the potatoes, warm, really soaked up the vinaigrette and were fantastic. The herring had lot of little bones in it, and while they were edible and didn't stick in my throat, I wasn't thrilled with them. I wonder if I could have removed them before making the salad.

With the hareng fumé doux, the mild smoked herring, I decided to make a salad that I've seen people eating for years in old-fashioned French cafés and brasseries, but never tried. I found a recipe on Marmiton that called for the mild smoked herring and sunflower oil, and that's the one I used. Here it is in English:

Brasserie-style marinated smoked herring
200 g mild smoked herring fillets
1 onion
1 carrot
1 tsp. coriander seeds
1 sprig of thyme
1 or 2 bay leaves
6 to 8 black peppercorns
1 or 2 whole cloves
enough sunflower oil to cover all

Cut each herring fillet into two or three pieces and put them in a covered dish.

Cut the carrot into disks and slice the onion. Add both to the dish, along with the spices.

Pour on enough oil to cover all the ingredients completely (this keeps air away from the fish and vegetables). Let the salad marinate in the refrigerator for a week or more. The older it is, the better it is!
I hope that last sentence is accurate, because my salad is now more than a week old. And it spent most of that time in the cellar, which is not quite as cold as the inside of a refrigerator — but then the fridge was without electricity last week, so not cold at all. We will try the marinated herring this week.


  1. Thank you Ken! You made my day!
    Those are the harengs doux of my childhood.

  2. Nadege, I thought of you when I saw that this was today's theme-- I remember you asking about this during Christmas time.

    Ken, the potatoes with the vinaigrette sound wonderful! However... though I've never had them, I think that I wouldn't care for the harengs :)) I'm glad you two enjoyed them!


  3. I've been following the great herring adventure with a lot of interesting. Such a versatile fish, the herring. It was a staple of my childhood, too, only it was brined instead of smoked.

    The two basic variations were pickled herring and schmaltz herring. Both are salted and brined, one with pickling spices and the other with a bit of brown sugar.

    My Polish grandmother used schmaltz herring to make her own pickled herring, which was more sour (and with less sugar) than the store bought kind. My Ukrainian grandma's herring tasted exactly like store-bought -- which it probably was.

    I've never had smoked herring, but will now be on the lookout after those photos.

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