The Humble Herring

Feeder fish no longer just a pickled side dish.

A natural phenomenon is about to happen along Parksville Qualicum Beach’s 19 kilometre sandy shoreline – the annual Pacific Herring spawn from mid-March through mid-April. It is a true west coast spectacle and the signature event of the Brant Wildlife Festival (March 1 – April 21, 2014).   As Canada’s largest herring spawn, millions of silvery fish arrive at Parkville’s shores, so rich and intense in numbers that the waters turn a glowing aquamarine blue.

It’s a rare event to see the concentration and abundance of marine life at Parksville Qualicum Beach during the spawn. Sightings of California Sea Lions (Zalophus Californianus) and Stellar Sea Lions (Eumetopias Jubatu), Harbor Seals (Phoca Vitulina Richardsi), and Brant Geese (Branta Bernicla) are common, all feasting on the herring menagerie.

 But the silvery fish is gaining attention from another species – humans.

Historically, the First Nations feasted on the delicious fish, but herring as a delicacy is fairly new in the 21st Century. They were popular during the Gold Rush, and consumption peaked during World War I when they were canned. New immigrants fished them for subsistence until the 1950s, but after that the fish went largely ignored.

Today, herring is not just fish food nor another pickled side dish, it offers juicy filets, is easy to prepare and loaded with Omega-3. The unassuming herring is a great delicacy with all the gutsy flavours of fresh sardines that appeals to a discerning palate. The steaks work well with many fresh herbs, particularly basil. Herring can grow up to 40 cm (16in) in length, providing a substantial amount of flesh. It can be poached, fried or grilled, or pickled, soused, marinated, salted or smoked.

Herring have a mild salty fish flavour and are oily in texture.

“Fresh herring tastes a bit like an anchovy or smelt, or trout with more texture,” says Chef Debbie Shore of Vancouver Island University. “Fry them up in butter. Eat one half off the top then pull out the spine and other bones. Then eat up.”

Pacific Herring are a type of forage fish, small schooling fish are really important components of the marine food chain feeding many other larger fish and marine mammals.

“Many believe that we should be eating forage fish directly rather than converting them into other forms of animal protein,” says Brian Kingzett, Manager Deep Bay Field Station, Vancouver Island University. “Rich in fatty acids these fish are highly nutritious and good for health and admired by many for their texture and taste.”

“Globally, overfishing of forage fish can have devastating effects on marine food webs when not well regulated.  In British Columbia, very conservative harvest levels for Pacific Herring are allowing this species to make a comeback after years of overfishing and stock collapse.”

The humble herring – environmentally friendly, rich in Omega-3, inexpensive, delicious. Maybe worth consideration on your next seafood menu.


Recipe index in this post:

Herring Tacos

Herring Pasta

Herring in Oats with Potato Salad

Herring Fillet with a Tapenade crust, Sweet and Sour Tomatoes and Butter sauce

Where to buy Herring


Mr. Grocer (Country Grocer)

1153 Esquimalt Rd

Victoria, BC, Canada

+1 250-382-5515

Carry when ‘running’ in February



2635 Quadra St

Victoria, BC, Canada

+1 250-380-9773

$2.99 per pound (frozen)




Fast Facts about herring

•   Size: 
40 cm (16in) in length

•   Lifespan: 
8–16 years

•   Range/Distribution
: Coastal waters throughout the Pacific Ocean

•   Diet: 
Zooplankton and phytoplankton

•   Predators
: Other fish, marine mammals, and birds

•   Reproduction: 
Mass spawners with external fertilization

•   Nutrition: 3-ounce serving of cooked herring provides 2,014 milligrams of omega-3 fats




Recipe Jamie Oliver

Source: Jamie Magazine

serves 6


• 4 garlic cloves

• A small pinch of cumin seeds

• ½ tsp fennel seeds

• ½ tsp chili flakes

• ½ tsp sweet paprika

• Juice of 2 limes

• Olive oil

• 8 herring fillets, scaled and pin-boned

• 150g fat-free plain yoghurt

• 12 hard taco shells

• 3 baby gem lettuces and mixed cress, to serve



• 3 ripe avocados, halved

• Juice of 2 limes

• ½ bunch coriander, leaves picked and roughly chopped


Tomato salsa

• 300g cherry tomatoes

• ½ bunch coriander, leaves picked

• 1 red chili


Preparation Method

1. Bash the garlic, cumin, fennel seeds and a good pinch of sea salt together in a pestle and mortar to make a paste. Stir in the chilli flakes, paprika and the juice of 1 lime then loosen with a good drizzle of olive oil. With a sharp knife, score the skin of the herring at 1cm intervals, being careful not to cut into the flesh. Spoon the rub over the fish and gently push into the slits. Place the fillets on a baking tray, skin-side up, and set aside.
2. For the guacamole, remove the avocado stones and scoop the flesh into a mortar, reserving the skins. (Don’t bother washing the pestle and mortar first – the flavours from the rub will only make the guacamole taste better.) Add the lime juice and coriander, smash it all together, then season. Spoon back into the avocado skins and chill until ready to serve.
3. Meanwhile, for the salsa, roughly chop the tomatoes, coriander and chilli on a board, mixing them together as you go. Add a tiny pinch of salt and pepper and a splash of olive oil. Keep running your knife through it until all the flavours are mixed together. 
4. Heat your char-grill pan over a high heat so it’s screaming hot. Mix the yoghurt and juice of 1 lime together. Line up your taco shells, fillings and greens so you’re ready for the fish. When the grill pan is hot, pop the fillets in for a couple of minutes, or until the skin is beautifully crisp and the flesh cooked through. Serve up and let everyone dig in!


Recipe Jamie Oliver

Source: Jamie

Serves 4-6



  • 500 g dried linguine
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
  • 1 fresh red chili, finely sliced
  • 1 tablespoon small capers
  • 1 small bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and finely chopped, stalks finely sliced
  • 4 x 40 g herring fillets, from sustainable sources, ask your fishmonger, skin-on, scaled and pin-boned, cut into 2cm strips
  • 1 small handful vine cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 knob butter, optional

Preparation Method

1. Add the linguine to a pan of boiling salted water and cook according to packet instructions.

2. Meanwhile, put a large frying pan on a high heat and add a few good lugs of olive oil. Once hot, add the garlic, chilli, capers and parsley stalks. Cook for a couple of minutes until just starting to colour. Add the herring strips to the pan and cook for 2 minutes. They will start to break up but don’t worry. Add the tomatoes and squeeze in the juice of a lemon.

3.Use tongs to transfer the cooked linguine straight into the frying pan, bringing a little of the cooking water with it. Add the butter, if using, and toss everything together in the pan. Have a taste, season with salt and pepper, add most of the parsley leaves and a lug of extra virgin olive oil. Mix again – use tongs if you need to – then transfer to a large platter. Scatter over the remaining parsley leaves and whack it in the centre of the table so everyone can tuck straight in.


Herring in Oats with Potato Salad

Recipe: Allegra McEvedy

Source: BBC Good Food


Serves 2




For the Potato Salad

•200g/7oz small new potatoes

•50g/2oz kale, very coarsely chopped

•¼ cucumber, cut in half lengthways, seeds scooped out with a spoon, thickly sliced

•1-2 spring onions, trimmed and sliced


For the Dressing

•1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar

•2 tbsp cold-pressed rapeseed oil

•Squeeze lemon juice

•Salt and freshly ground black pepper


For the Herring
  • 2 handfuls ‘medium’ oatmeal
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 herring fillets, scales and central line of bones removed you’re your fishmonger to do this for you
  • Dollop English Mustard
  • 30g/1¼oz butter
  • Splash rapeseed oil
  • Lemon wedges, to serve


Preparation Method

1.    For the potato salad, boil the new potatoes in a large saucepan of salted water until tender (about 12 minutes). Add the kale and cucumber to the pan three minutes before the potatoes are ready and boil until all of the ingredients are tender. Drain well and set aside.

2.    For the dressing, whisk together the vinegar, rapeseed oil and lemon juice in a jug until well combined. Season, to taste, with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Set aside.

3.    For the herring, sprinkle the oatmeal onto a plate and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

4.    Brush both sides of each herring fillet with a little of the mustard, then roll in the seasoned oatmeal until completely covered.

5.    Heat the butter and the oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan over a medium heat. Add the coated herring fillets to the pan, skin-side up (do this in batches if necessary). Gently press down on each of the herring fillets using a fish slice so that they stay flat. Fry for 1-2 minutes, or until the oats are golden-brown, then turn over and continue to fry on the other side for a further 1-2 minutes, or until the herrings are cooked through and the oats are golden-brown.

6.    Remove the herring fillets from the pan using a slotted spoon and set aside to drain on kitchen paper.

7.    Place the boiled potatoes, kale and cucumber into a serving bowl, stir in the spring onions, and drizzle over the dressing. Mix well and season, to taste, with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

8.    To serve, divide the herring equally between two serving plates. Spoon the potato salad alongside and serve with a wedge of lemon.




Recipe: James Tanner

Source: BBC Food



• 1 herring fillet

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper


For the Tapenade

• 250g/9oz green olives, pits removed

• 1 garlic clove, crushed

• 3 tbsp olive oil

• Handful breadcrumbs


For the Sweet and Sour Tomatoes

• 1 tbsp olive oil

• 1 tomato, halved

• 2 tsp brown sugar

• 2 tsp red wine vinegar


For the butter sauce

• 300ml/10fl oz white wine

• 2 tbsp double cream

• 20g/¾oz butter

• 1 sprig fresh dill, to garnish


Preparation Method

1.    Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.

2.    Season the herring fillet with salt and freshly ground black pepper and place on a baking tray, skin-side down.

3.    For the tapenade, place all the tapenade ingredients in the bowl of a small food processor and process until smooth.

4.    Spread the tapenade over the herring fillet and place in the oven to cook for 7-8 minutes, or until cooked through.

5.    For the sweet and sour tomatoes, heat the oil in an ovenproof frying pan and fry the tomatoes on all sides. Add the sugar and vinegar and stir. Transfer to the oven to cook for around five minutes.

6.    For the butter sauce, heat a small frying pan, add the white wine and simmer until reduced by half. Stir in the cream and butter and continue to cook over a low heat until the butter has melted.

7.    To serve, spoon the sauce into the centre of a serving plate and lay the fish fillet on top. Spoon the tomatoes around the sides and garnish with a sprig of fresh dill.



Recipe: Barney Desmazery

Source: Good Food Magazine, October 2008

Serves 4



• 8 herring fillets

• 2 tbsp Dijon mustard

• 8 thin slices pancetta

• 8 bay leaves

• 1 lemon, cut into 8 thin slices

• 1 tbsp olive oil


Preparation Method

1.    Heat oven to 220C/fan 200C/gas 7. Lay the fillets, skin-side down, brush them with mustard and lay a slice of pancetta on each. Starting from the tail end, roll the fillet up with the pancetta into a spiral, then secure with a toothpick, a bay leaf and a lemon slice. Sit the fillets in a baking tray or ceramic dish.

   2.    Drizzle the fillets with olive oil, then roast for 15-20 mins until cooked through and starting to brown at the edges.

Serve 2 fillets per person with new potatoes or a crunchy apple and onion salad.

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