Portion/Yield:Serves 6 as a starter or light lunch
This herring escabeche is like a portion of sunshine on a plate and it reminds me of hot sunny days and holidays in France. The beauty is that you can make the salad early in the morning or even the day before, and when it comes to serving the dish, it’s then perfectly pickled. I like the simplicity and purity of this recipe as it’s not at all complicated. I serve this dish with Sweet and Sour Pickled Green Beans and plenty of buttered brown bread – and the pickled vegetables are just as delicious as the escabeche.
Herring is a very bony fish and it’s not easy to remove all the bones, but the richness of the oily flesh makes it perfect for pickling. Alternatively, you can use sardines or mackerel instead of herrings – I sometimes use the really small sardines, but again you end up with a bone problem.
Ingredients & Method
- 6 herring fillets with skin on (360–480g in total), pin bones removed
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 bay leaf a
- a sprig of fresh summer savory (or you can use a sprig of fresh thyme instead)
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, lightly crushed
- 2 star anise
- 1 onion, finely sliced
- 1/2 fennel bulb, trimmed and finely sliced
- 1 carrot, finely sliced
- 1 clove garlic, lightly crushed
- 1 teaspoon caster sugar
- a pinch of saffron strands
- 200ml white wine
- 75ml cider vinegar
- sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- Sweet and Sour Pickled Green Beans (see previous recipe), to serve
First, prepare the fish. Wash the herring fillets and pat dry, then cut them in half widthways and lightly score the skin. Place the fish pieces, skin-side up, in a wide, shallow, non-metallic container and smear the fish with half of the olive oil, then add the bay leaf and summer savory and set aside.
Heat a saucepan until hot, then toast the coriander seeds and star anise in the hot dry pan over a high heat for 1–2 minutes. Remove from the heat and carefully add the remaining oil to the pan, along with the onion, fennel, carrot and garlic, then return the pan to the heat, cover and sweat over a low heat for 7–8 minutes or until the onion turns transparent. Season lightly with salt and pepper, then stir in the sugar and saffron.
Add the wine and cider vinegar to the pan and bring the mixture to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 2 minutes or until the liquid has reduced and thickened slightly. Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool for 5 minutes or so (see Cook’s Note).
Season the herrings with sea salt, then ladle the pickling liquid over the fish. Leave the mixture to cool completely, then cover and leave the fish to marinate in the fridge for at least 12 hours or overnight before serving, to allow the flavours to develop. The herrings can be left in their pickling liquid in the fridge for up to 2 days before serving, if you like.
To serve, drain and reserve the herrings and then reserve a little of the pickling liquid and some of the pickled onion, fennel and carrot slices; discard the rest. Arrange 2 pieces of pickled herring fillets on each serving plate and garnish each portion with a few of the reserved pickled vegetable slices. Drizzle a teaspoon or so of the reserved pickling liquid over each portion, spoon some pickled green beans on to the plates and serve immediately with buttered brown bread.
Let the pickling liquid mixture cool slightly before pouring it over the fish, otherwise the heat will cause the skin of the fish to curl up.