Maatjes, Dutch new herring
Once caught, the young herring is cleaned: its intestines are removed, except for the pancreas. While the cleaned herring is ripening in salt in wooden barrels, it’s his pancreas that will release the necessary enzymes that will help the ripening process but will also give the herring its very particular strong flavor.
The matjes herring tradition started somewhere in the 14th century in Holland. The herring was preserved in lots of salt back then because there was no other way to do it. Nowadays the freshly caught herring has to be frozen right away for 24 hours for health reasons and food safety to kill any parasites that might still be present in the fish. After that, the young herring is cleaned and stashed into wooden barrels with salt to ripen.The first new herring you can eat in June has been pickled and preserved for 2 to up to 4 weeks. My fishmonger Luc Vis (pun intended) in Mechelen, Belgium buys them straight from the barrels and cleans the fish on the spot: he removes the head, the pancreas and the spine all the way up to the tail. So basically you got 2 fatty herring fillets joined by the tail. Chopped onion is traditionally sprinkled on top of it to soothe the salty and pungent fish flavor. And wash it all down with an ice cold and crisp beer!
How to eat Dutch new herring
You can eat them using a knife and fork but the coolest and mot traditional way to eat a matjes herring is to pick it up by its tail, raise it above your head and bite in it. Great tradition!
Dutch new herring with green bean salad
I love to serve the maatjes with a side salad of fresh green beans and vinegar or a chopped green bean salad with garlic and cream cheese. I sometimes add some grated green apple as well! Bread is also served with the maatjes, preferably rye bread.
- 2 fat matjesherring cleaned
- a handful green beans
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp onion chopped
- 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- Trim the green beans and rinse them. Fill a small pan with water, add a good pinch of salt and place the pan over high heat. Once the water is boiling, add the green beans.
- Turn the heat lower and cook the beans for a couple of minutes until they are nearly tender, kind of al dente. Don’t overcook the beans. Immediately drain the cooked beans and refresh them under cold running tap water. This will stop the cooking process and will keep the beans bright green.
- Place the beans in the fridge to chill for 15 minutes. Then chop the beans up into small bits. Add them to a mixing bowl together with the chopped onion. Season with a pinch of pepper, salt and garlic powder.
- Stir the beans well. Drizzle with the olive oil, the toasted sesame oil and the balsamic vinegar.
- Stir the beans again. Check the seasoning and add extra pepper or salt to taste if necessary. Place the beans in the fridge for another 15 minutes. Then divide the herring fillets over plates and add the the chilled bean salad. Serve immediately.
Is soused herring the same?
Soused herring, also known as Dutch brined herring, is also a raw herring delicacy but it is not the same as the matjes herring. Bother however are made with the same fish: the freshly caught herring is cleaned out apart from the pancreas, and then the fish fillets are cured in salt. After that the herring is placed in a vinegar and sugar brine and left to pickle for a couple of days.
If you have never tasted the two herring versions before: you can compare it with the flavor and texture difference and intensity between salted anchovy fillets and pickled anchovy fillets in brine. Same product but totally different end result.Soused herring is soaked in a mild preserving liquid such as a mild vinegar mixture. This marinade can contain cider, wine or sherry, sugar, herbs (dill or chives), mustard, spices (such as pepper corns, juniper berries or mace), mayonnaise and raw sliced or chopped onion. Raw herring pickled in vinegar often goes by the name of rollmops (also spelled rolmops) as well. It is often served with a green salad or in a bread roll for lunch.
Pickled herrings have been very popular especially in Northern Europe since the middle ages. It was a way to store and transport fish safely, especially during the meatless periods like Lent. Soused herring is very popular in Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, The Netherlands, Belgium, Iceland and Germany. It is also a staple in Polish, Scottish and Jewish cuisine.
Over the years I have noticed that both names are very often used interchangeably even though the soused herring and matjes herring are actually quite different products.