So here’s everything you want and you need to know about maatjes, Dutch new herring and matjes herring! What is it, how do you eat it best and also what should you serve it with…
Have you ever heard of this European delicacy before, maatjes?
It also goes by the name of Dutch new herring, Hollandse nieuwe (Holland young herring), Hollandse maatjes, or matjes herring. Well it is a very popular treat in The Netherlands and also in Belgium around the months of May and June!
And I love it to bits.
The Dutch new herring or maatjes season in Belgium this year officially starts on June 12, 2019.
And I will be there of course!
Maatjes, Dutch new herring
Here’s the story behind the Dutch new herring. Fishermen catch the young herring throughout May and June depending on the weather conditions. If the weather is very good, some might even decide to catch the herring a couple of days later. By doing so the fish can eat more before being caught. That gives them more time to get fatter, oilier and super rich and tasty.
Very important: the fishermen have to catch the herring before they start spawning, which starts in July. ‘Maatje’ comes from the word ‘maagd’ (virgin in Dutch), wrongfully pronounced after centuries of maatjes tradition. Maatjes are young virgin herring!
Once caught, the young herring is cleaned: its intestines are removed, except for the pancreas. During the herring’s ripening process in salt in wooden barrels, it’s this pancreas that releases the necessary enzymes to help it rot (there’s no other way to put it really) but will also give the herring its very particular strong flavor.
The matjes herring tradition started somewhere in the 14th century in Holland. Back then people preserved the herring in lots of salt because there was no other way to keep it.
Nowadays fishermen immediately freeze the freshly caught herring right away for about 24 hours for European health reasons and food safety rules and regulations.
And why is that?
Well freezing fresh fish doesn’t only keep it from spoiling fast, but it also kills any parasites that might still be present in the fish. After that, factory workers clean the thawed young herring and stash them into wooden barrels with salt to ripen.
Or in other words: rot.
In June you can officially eat the first Dutch new herring, which has been pickled and preserved for 2 to up to 4 weeks. Our fishmonger Luc Vis (pun intended) in Mechelen, Belgium buys them straight from the factories in their barrels and he cleans the pungent Dutch new herring on the spot.
He first removes the head, and then the pancreas and the spine all the way up to the tail.
So basically you got 2 fatty Dutch new herring fillets that are still joined by the tail. I love matjes herring in its traditional way: just sprinkled with a little bit of chopped onion to soothe the salty and pungent fish flavor.
And the best way to wash it all down is with an ice cold and crisp beer from the local brewery!
Absolutely to die for.
How to eat Dutch new herring
You can eat maatjes with knife and fork but here’s the coolest way.
Do you want to eat it in the most traditional way? Pick the matjes herring up by its tail (never mind the chopped onion falling on your face), raise it above your head and bite in it.
Dutch new herring with green bean salad
So how to and what to serve Dutch new herring with then?
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 and a slice of bread, 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
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. Stir the beans well. Drizzle with the olive oil, the toasted sesame oil and the balsamic vinegar.
5. 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 as Dutch new herring?
Soused herring, or Dutch brined herring, is also a raw herring delicacy.
But it is not the same as the matjes herring. It is the same fish however, also cleaned out apart from the pancreas, and then cured in salt. After that the herring pickles in a vinegar and sugar brine 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 soaks in a mild preserving liquid such as a mild vinegar mixture. This marinade usually contains 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. You will find it served with a green salad or in a bread roll for lunch.
Pickled herrings is very popular especially in Northern Europe, even 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 Dutch new herring are actually quite different products.