Sautéed herring with a sweet and sour relish

At an early age I asked my father to name his favourite fish, and the answer was, unhesitatingly, ‘fresh herring in oatmeal, preferably for breakfast’. This obviously registered, because I still regard this delicious fish with awe. Reading Jane Grigson’s marvellous Fish Cookery only reinforced this opinion early in my career. Combine this predilection with the existence of Hamburger Products (a shop specialising in smoked or cured herring) around the corner, and my addiction was complete. This particular dish has a mixed provenance: a definite Scottish origin with the oatmeal, but the relish is much more cosmopolitan with antecedents in Denmark (stegsylt), Japan (nariban), Italy (pesce in soar), and Spain (escabeche), truly Modern British Cooking!

Ingredients

  • 4 medium herrings (150-200 g each), filleted
  • milk
  • fine oatmeal (if only coarse is procurable, then simply grind it fine in a food processor)
  • a little sunflower oil
  • a small handful of parsley leaves

Relish

  • 6 tbsp cider vinegar or rice wine vinegar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 tbsp demerara sugar
  • 1 carrot, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
  • 2 red onions, peeled and finely sliced
  • salt and pepper

Method

Soak the herring fillets in enough milk to cover them for an hour or so. Spread the oatmeal out on a tray, lift the herring out of the milk and press on both sides into the oatmeal while they are still damp. Heat a tsp of oil in a frying pan over a medium flame and gently fry the fish for 2 minutes on each side, transferring them to a deep serving dish (large enough to hold the fish in a single layer) when done. Do not overcrowd the pan. Do them in two or three batches if necessary, and be very careful not to scorch the oatmeal as this would ruin the dish.

In a separate pan, boil the vinegar with the bay and sugar for a few moments, then add the prepared carrot and onion. Simmer for a further minute, season generously with salt and pepper, stir and pour over the herrings.

Serving

Leave to cool completely, then serve with a few scattered parsley leaves.

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