Wednesday 5 September 2012

Rollmop Herring

Herring have a long historical connection with the North East of England. Originally the small scale exploitation of an abundant local resource, fishing grew to become a thriving industry all down the east coast during the last century, with whole families in the coastal community relying on Herring for their livelihood. Too much of a good thing eventually saw the fish run out and the industry decline but these versatile, if unfashionable, fish are still caught in the North Sea today.

The herring are in season over the summer in the North East and cost next to nothing. These little fellas were 50p each from the Grainger Market. I bought them to go into Mr. Smokerson, home smoked herring sounded delicious, even though the guys at Craster are pretty good at it I fancied a go. That was until I found out it took 5 days... And even by my standards taking 5 days off work to sit and smoke some fish seemed a bit excessive.

The herring season begins in June in Scotland and works its way down the North East coast over the summer months towards Lowestoft, coming to an end in November. Amble, Cullercoats and North Shields were our main local fishing harbours for herring back in the day. Amble harbour was built in 1830 and was famous for its fishing cobels, which were out in force to catch the 'silver darlings' as the herring became known.

My great grandfather used to have two cobels in Amble harbour; they were beautiful boats, each being built specifically for its user. Boats fished with seven or eight lines, about 200 metres long, with 500 to 1,000 hooks on each, baited with mussels. Baiting the lines was a very timely task usually left to the women, old men and children at home; with children often being absent from school during the herring season. A harbour in Lowestoft once recorded a catch of 60 million herring in one day, so you can see why they were an important visitor...

The rollmop, essentially a pickled herring, has been a staple in Northern Europe since Medieval times, probably being more popular in the Baltic areas of Northern Europe than over here. I have always enjoyed them so decided to give them a go. I went with a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe for my first attempt, a cider vinegar and orange pickle. The flavour is really deep and rich compared to other roll mop I have had, spiced and orangey, but fresh and sharp with sweet soft fish.

To start you need to take the fillets off each of the fish as carefully as you can, I'm not the neatest at this yet but am getting better... Then remove any bones left in the fillets, running your fingers along them to feel where they are and pulling them out with some little pliers or tweezers. Dry each of the fillets with kitchen roll and then place them into a plastic Tupperware type container. Dissolve 60g of salt into 500ml of cold water and pour this brine over the herring fillets, then leave for 2 to 3 hours.

To make the pickling mixture add 500ml of cider vinegar, 250ml of cider, 12 allspice berries, 12 black peppercorns, 6 bay leaves, 1 tablespoon of brown sugar, 1 teaspoon of mustard seeds, the zest of an orange peeled in wide strips and a thinly sliced small onion. I also added a pinch of general pickling spices. Bring this all to the boil and simmer for a few minutes, then leave to cool.

When the fillets are ready to come out of the brine dry them carefully with kitchen roll. You will need a large kilner jar or something similar that seals tightly. Roll up each of the fillets, skin side out, from tail to head; and pack them into your container tightly so they stay rolled. Then pour over the pickling marinade, make sure you have orange and spices in the jar with the fish and liquid, then seal the jar. Store them in the fridge for at least 3 days before eating, they will keep for about a month, and are best between 5 and 10 days. The longer you leave them the softer the fish becomes and the more pickled they will taste.

Pickled fish doesn’t immediately set everyone's taste buds tingling, but these are really fresh and delicious, sharp vinegar with rich orange and spices and the fish tastes fresh, soft and delicious. Hugh recommends serving with some brown bread and sour cream; they have been a treat to have in the fridge over the past few weeks. I will definitely be making more, trying different pickling combinations as I go. I have come across recipes using mace, white wine vinegar, dill, cloves, fennel... I had best get back to the Grainger Market before the season ends...


  1. Great post, think I'll need to try this. I love rollmops, but shop-bought can be very one-note in flavour. When in Krakow a couple of years ago, we came across a hut selling all manner of pickled fish. Only tried a couple, but that was fantastic.

  2. Sounds amazing! I just made some more but this time with dill and horseradish instead of orange, and a bit more sugar, they were delicious!

    Anna x


Happy cooking! Let me know if you make any of my recipes, send a picture, and let me know any of your own recipes and tips! Anna x