Scandinavian Salted Fish


Salting is a method of preserving in its own right. The salt, by drawing out water, prevents bacteria from spoiling the food, and adds a new taste in the process: salting is usually followed by fermentation, changing the aromas of the food to something even more inviting. Salting is what comes first in all the different and delicious fish preserves from the north. Some fish, like the famous gravlax, is eaten as it is, but most salted fish is treated further. Read more about Scandinavian salted fish.

Appearance and taste of Scandinavian salted fish
The best and fattest are known as ‘Iceland Diamonds’, which come in two forms: plain salted herrings or spiced salted herrings, the latter red-hued from sandalwood, cloves, pepper and allspice. Which you initially choose is mostly a matter of taste.

Scandinavian Salted Fish
Herring with onions

Related: Scandinavian Fish Roe

They are both sold as whole (to be gutted and filleted at home) or some filleted fish, in brine, and are the starting point for a wealth of herring recipes.

Scandinavian Salted Fish
Pickled herring

Either way, the fish must be soaked in cold water, to remove excess salt, and then anointed in a marinade, often consisting just of vinegar, sugar, spices and onions, and left to macerate for a day before eating.

However, the tradition is huge, and we have literally hundreds of local marinated herring recipes including flavorings from mustard and dill to curry, tomato and sherry.

Related: Scandinavian Preserved Fish

Scandinavian Salted Fish
Pickled herring and dill

To confuse matters more, salted herrings, both spiced and plain, can be bought desalted and already in a variety if marinades, and ready to eat. There are so many to choose from that it can be bewildering. The taste in herrings differs throughout Scandinavia, with countless local specialties, and also particular herrings for different seasons – it’s an inexhaustible wealth of variation.

Most people these days buy ready-marinated herrings, which can be as good as the homemade versions, but many families still have special traditional herrings-recipes, mostly made for Christmas.

Scandinavian Salted Fish
Salted herring fillet with fat onion on rye bread

Matjes herrings are a special Swedish way with salted marinated herrings, and they are delicious. They are sold ready to eat in oblong cans, as whole fillets.

Buying and storing
Buy salted herrings in quantities to suit immediate use as the fat in the fish goes rancid when kept out if the brine. Once home-marinated, the shelf life of the fish depends on the marinade. Marinated herrings sold in cans or jars keep for a long time, though some are semi-preserved and must be kept cool.

Scandinavian Salted Fish
Salted herring in a barrel

Related: Scandinavian Crayfish

Culinary uses
All marinated herrings taste good more or less served in the same way, which is very simple: on rye bread, with egg, onion, cold boiled potatoes, chives and sliced apples, plus a blob of crème fraiche for herrings that are nit already in a creamy marinade.

Scandinavian Salted Fish
Salted herring with caviar

This must be the ultimate Scandinavian open sandwich, and the ultimate lunch: you can serve one type of herring on a ready-made open sandwich, or put a variety on a plate to pit on the bread yourself. Or you can serve them as a summer dinner or lunch dish with new boiled potatoes, crème fraiche or butter, dill and chives.

Scandinavian Salted Fish, written by Tor Kjolberg