Scandinavian pickled herrings Recipe

‘Silver darlings’, as herrings were once known, have brought wealth, health and prosperity to the shores of the UK from the Middle Ages right up until the present day. In Scotland, in particular, towns grew on their herring trade and railway lines were extended to places like Wick, Ullapool and Mallaig to allow for their transportation south. The Scandinavians and Dutch, too, ate and sold herrings in massive quantities, fishing for them in the Baltic Sea from the 10th century onwards. It is said that Amsterdam was built on the bones of herrings and historian Jules Michelet referred to it as the place where ‘herring fishers transmuted their stinking cargo into gold’.

Herrings are ‘pelagic’, meaning they are continually on the move, similar to sardines and mackerel. And like them they are oily fish rich in Omega 3, so they are really good for you. Herrings don’t keep for long in their fresh form, which is why they are often preserved by being smoked, when they become known as ‘kippers’, or pickled and stored in jars as they are in this recipe.

Herrings continued in popularity right up until the mid-20th century, so much so that they were overfished and stocks became dangerously low. However, we are now seeing quantities return to levels that are sustainable and for now, at least, we can enjoy them free from guilt. This Swedish recipe was given to me by Lotta Gustasson. Pickled herrings are delicious served plain with toasted rye or pumpernickel bread, or hot boiled potatoes and hard-boiled eggs, or you can chop them up and serve them with Dill sauce.

From The Gentle Art of Preserving by Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi (Kyle Books, £25)





30 minutes

Scandinavian pickled herrings

Ingredients list

  • 500ml distilled white vinegar
  • 2.5 litres water
  • 150g fine sea salt
  • 1 heaped tablespoon sugar
  • 2.5kg herrings, filleted
  • 1 small white onion, finely sliced into rings (optional)
  • Dill sauce, to serve (optional)

Number of servings

4 servings

Jar suggestion

Le Parfait Screw-top Jars

Le Parfait Screw Top Jar

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  1. Pour the vinegar and water into a large shallow dish, such as one you would use for lasagne, and stir in the salt and sugar to make a brine.
  2. Lay the fish and the onion rings (if using) in the liquid, making sure they are totally submerged.
  3. Cover the dish with clingfilm and set aside to marinate in the fridge for 24 hours.
  4. Drain the herrings and onions and either serve them plain or chop into bite-sized pieces and mix with the dill sauce, adding a couple of tablespoons crème fraîche. If you want to preserve them for longer, mix with the dill sauce (omitting the crème fraîche) and pack into sealed jars. Like this, they will keep in the fridge for up to 4 weeks.

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