The reanimation of this blog required a broad story that could inform and entertain a wide audience. Something all food lovers could connect too. Brined fish was the obvious choice.
Fact: cured fish is generally regarded as yuck. Not for me. My Dad introduced me to herring in cream sauce at an early age, and smoked salmon/lox/nova were just part of the gastronomic landscape where i grew up in New Jersey. Curing my own happened in culinary school and continued into my professional practice. Outside of ordering them special, finding fresh sardines or herring for curing is pretty much unheard of. So when I saw “Salted Herring $3.25 each” on the specials board at Zygma, I quickly tacked it onto my order.
Upon my request, Marta, the proprietor, reluctantly headed to the back room armed with a fistful of plastic bags. Yeah, I don’t envy anybody whose about to open a bin of fish sitting in salt brine. She came back, pinching the bag, arm extended. I asked her how she prepares them. “Well, the Russians…” she says in a tone (she’s Polish) “they’ll eat them just like that.” She went on to tell me her husbands preferred method using just onions and oil.
At home I figured I would treat my herring, hereafter referred to as “Floyd”, in a similarly simple fashion. Liberating Floyd from his layers of plastic revealed a beautifully plump, though odiferous, whole herring. So here’s the deal. In his current state, Floyd has been sitting in a salt brine and is therefore already cured. My goal now is to immerse him in a gentle marinade which will transform him from a simple brine sitter suitable for consumption only by Russians, to the centerpiece of a composed salad complete with toast points.
I begin with a thorough rinse followed by removal of the fillets. Floyd was properly descaled prior to brining, and the pin bones are soft and need not be removed. It’s a good idea at this point to sample for salt. Depending on how much salt Floyd took on, he might require an overnight in fresh water. A quick taste and I determine he’s fine to go straight to the marinade.
Fresh herbs work well here. Had I stopped at the store on the way home, I would have chosen parsley, thyme, and bay leaves. The spice pantry provides corriander, yellow mustard, and black pepper. All get tossed in a cast iron for some gentle roasting in order to activate their oils. Meanwhile, a yellow onion is sliced, olive and vegetable oils are fetched. I cut the fillets in thirds, mostly for ease of packaging. The now cooled spices are tossed with the onion and a blend of the oils. Straight olive oil would, in the refrigerator, congeal into a gel. Now packaged, Floyd moves to the top shelf in the fridge for a couple of days rest.