MANY OF US pass over the section of the market that purveys smoked and pickled fish. Our mothers didn't feed us the stuff and it can be too confusing to fathom.
The Resolute Shopper has gathered an enormous collection of all kinds of smoked and prepared fish and attempted to distinguish among flavors and uses. Not only was the taste of many quite good but a great number of these fish fit into the category of high-class convenience food. Smoked, pickled or marinated fish, can be delicious; presentation often requires little more work than arrangement of pieces on an attractive platter with wedges of lemon and/or a loaf of good bread.
The accompanying comments on herring are culled from a tasting panel of 10 people, nearly all were unfamiliar with smoked and pickled fish.
Herring is an extraordinary abundant fish encompassing several species. In its adult state (up to a length of one foot) herring is often preserved by smoking or salting; young fish are extensively canned as sardines. From time to time, fresh or frozen herring can be found in our markets.
Some of the prepared forms of herring are:
Matjes - Cured with sugar and spices, frequently artificially colored.
Schmaltz - Cured with brown sugar, usually not as sweet as matjes.
Kipper - Split, salted and smoked.
Bloater - Smoke-cured without salt (must be eaten just after curing).
Bismarck - Flat fillet in a sour marinade.
Rollmop (or Roll Mup or some other variation) - Fresh herring fillet seasoned in a marinade and rolled around a gherkin pickle or onion.
Blind Robin - Thin strip of smoked salt herring.
Pickled - In wine or vinegar with spices and flavorings or sour cream sauce.
One can imitate the native Danes by simply serving any type of marinated herring with ice-cold aquavit, a Scandinavian spirit flavored with caraway seeds and best taken neat.
Here is a simple way to prepare salt herring as a first course of light lunch (you can substitute matjes or schmaltz herring):
To ready the fish, lay the herring in water for at least 8 hours, changing the water frequently. If you'd like to remove even more salt, soak in seltzer 2 more hours.
Fillet by cutting off the head and slit on backside from head to tail. Open fish and scrape meat from bones. Insert knife under backbone and carefully separate meat from bones. Lift out and discard entire backbone.
Cover fillets with milk and ice cubes; chill 2 hours. Drain, arrange in a bowl with sliced apples and cover with half sour cream and half mustard mayonaise. Garnish with fresh dill.
Matjes - Our panel compared these herring from Posins' Bakery-Delicatessen, 5756 Georgia Ave. NW, and Parkway Delicatessen and Restaurant, 8317 Grubb Road, Silver Spring, and found both surprisingly sweet, almost candied-tasting. Posins' matjes, which sells for $1.59 per 1/2 pound, had a nice texture, while Parkway's evinced a cinnaoon, and to some, a slight mint flavor. Carl Penn, the venerable man behind the fish counter at Katz Kosher Super Market, 4860 Boiling Brook Parkway, Rockville (where matjes fillets are sold for $4.89 each) soaks the matjes a few hours to remove the saltiness and eats it at room temperature with plain boiled potatoes.
Schmaltz - Again, we tested Posins' and Parkway's offerings. Generally, tasters found schmaltz to be fishier than matjes. Without soaking, the flavor of schmaltz herring prompted one panelist to say, "It tastes like 30-year old cod liver oil," leading us to believe some of the salt should be removed to make it palatable. Parkway's schmaltz, which are good looking, cost $1.59 each; Posins' are $1.29 each. Katz sells schmaltz for $1.69 per pound, while Chevy Chase Fish Market, 5509 Connecticut Ave. NW, charges $1.39 apiece.
Salt Herring - Cannon Sea Food, 1065 31st St. NW, stocks salt herring from Holland, which is of high quality because it contains roe or milt, ofter used in preparation of herring dishes; it sells for $2.79 per pound.There is also a salt herring from Lake Superior at Cannon which costs $1.99 per pound. Posins' salt herring sell for $1.19 apiece.
All of the above fist should be soaked and can be used in almost any recipe calling for herring.
Blind Robin - These curious strips of smoked salt herring used to be offered in bars as an inducement to drink. We found them very smokey and salty, reminding one taster of Bombay duck. At Chevy Chase Fish Market, where these sell for $2.99 per pound, we were told to eat them "Just like that, with beer"; Cannon sells them for $2.29 per pound.
Rollmops - We tasted these from Parkway, where they make their own and sell them for 89 cents each, and found a strong pickled flavor, although some felt it was too vinegary. Chevy Chase Fish Market also sells rollmops for 89 cents; Katz" are 79 cents...
HERRING IN JARS
All of the following herring are marinated in a "wine" sauce, containing vinegar or wine, salt, sugar and spices.
Acme - $1.50 for 8 ounces at Cannon. Tasting notes: "Meaty, chewy, adequate."
Novie - Available at Wagshal's Delicatessen, 4955 Massachussets Ave. NW, for $1.69 for 8 ounces. "Dry, no body, mushy."
Ma Cohen's - $1.89 for 8 ounces at Georgetown Wine & Food Co., 1015 Wisconsin Ave. NW. "Chewy, vinegary, good texture, excellent."
Montrose - $2.19 for 12 ounces at Posins". "Tangy, full-bodied, elegant, natural, with finesse," clearly the favorite.
Wellworth - $1.79 for 12 ounces at Katz. "Mild flavor, good texture, but too sweet."
Godi - $2.19 for 9 ounces at Wagshal's. "Good salt, sweet and spice balance; prototypical herring; mushy."
CHOPPED HERRING SALAD
Most home recipes call for bread, onions, hard-cooked eggs and sometimes apples to be chopped along with the herring. In fact, chopped herring is prepared and eaten much the same as chopped liver.
Katz - $1.50 per pound. "Adequate, too sweet, needs texture."
Hofberg's Restaurant and Delicatessen, 5240 Randolph Rd., Rockville - $2.69 per pound. "Too smooth, awful flavor."
Posins' - $2.38 per pound. "Nice balance and texture," everyone's preference.
HERRING IN CANS
Bradley Food and Beverage, 6904 Arlington Road, Bethesda, has an outstanding selection of canned fish, covering eight pages in our notes where we detailed such imported delicacies as herring fillets in shrimp sauce and smoked cod liver in own oil. Our panel tasted two from this panoply: Gosch Bits of Fried Herring Fillet (W. Germany), $1.45 for 5 ounces, which some of us found mealy and unacceptable and some of us enjoyed; and Glyngore Mini Kippers in Sildsardine Oil (Denmark), $2.15 for 4 1/8 ounces, which we liked and found to have a pleasant smoky flavor.
Iceland Waters Kipper Snacks, 70 cents for 3 1/4 ounces, was purchased at Hofberg's. Tasters' assessment was negative; the fish is virtually unidentifiable.
Marshall's Scotch Kippered Herring, $1.39 for 7 ounces, was found at Katz. This was well-liked and recommended for picnic fare. Katz also sells King Roland Kippered Herring (Canada), 63 cents for 3 1/4 ounces. This fish had a clean, non-assertive flavor; some thought it too bland.
Kingli Matjes Herring Fillets (Sweden) is available in cooler months in the refrigerated sections of many stores, including Wagshal's, where it sells for about $2.19 for 5 ounces. This brand exhibits the characteristics of the aforementioned fresh matjes herring: exceedingly sweet with a salty overcast. You can use them straight out of the can or soak them to tone down the flavor.
Bonavita Herring Fillets in Mustard Sauce (Korea), $1.09 for 6 1/2 ounces, came from Old World Market, 3301 New Mexico Ave. NW, and was deemed unacceptable.
Ray's Tidbits of Herring in Soybean Oil (Maine), $1.39 for 3 1/4 ounces, came from Posins' and was a hit.
On the whole we did not have much luck with herring canned in an exotic fashion. Since the selection is so large, you might want to tast on your own and single out one or two types you like and keep them in the cupboard for impromptu cocktail food and snacking.
OTHER SMOKED FISH
A couple of stores had displays of smoked fish which were noteworthy because of the attractiveness and freshness of the fish as well as the variety. These include Chevy Chase Fish Market and Katz.
Many of the following can be served with a sauce made from freshly-grated horseradish mixed with sour cream or creme fraiche.
Smoked Trout from New York, $4.60 per pound at Cannon. "Dry, plain, "it lodges in your throat.""
Hot-Smoked Trout from Idaho, $10.99 per pound at Georgetown Wine & Food Co... "Sweet, good smoke, texture like an eraser."
Cold-Smoked Rainbow Trout from Washington State, $8.49 per pound at Georgetown Wine & Food Co. "Well-rounded, good texture and succulent smoky flavor, spectacular."
Finnan Haddie - $2.85 per pound at Cannon; $5.99 per pound at Chevy Chase Fish Market; $3.39 per pound at A & B Shellfish Co., Inc., 3001 Nutley St., Fairfax. The name of this traditional-English breakfast food derives from haddock smoked on the seaside banks of Findon, Scotland. It is poached in milk and water (with the optional addition of bay leaf, cloves and slices of onion) for two minutes or so and served with melted butter and lemon juice.
Sable - $5.99 per pound at Georgetown Wine & Food Co... This is kippered black codfish which was called chicken carp "in the old days," according to Ray Laby of Acme. It is lightly-cured, tinted with a paprika seasoning and hot-smoked. "Oily, smelly and overpowering" were tasters' comments.
Whitefish - $5.99 per pound at Georgetown Wine & Food Co... "Sweet and moist." $3.85 per pound at Cannon. "Tender, subtle, sweet, excellent." Posins' sells big, medium and small whitefish for between $4.29 and $4.99 per pound; they will fillet them for you for 75 cents apiece.
Chub (baby whitefish) - $5.99 per pound at Georgetown Wine & Food Co... "Smoky, oily, nice flavor."
Butterfish - $5.50 per pound at Parkway. "Dry, fibrous, awful aftertaste."
Chubback - $3.16 per pound at Posins". This is shad that is cured and cold-smoked. "Too salty, tastes like cat food."
Regga - $1.50 apiece at Skenderis Greek Imports, 1612 20th St. NW, AND 5558 Randolph Rd., Rockville. This smoked fish looks a lot like herring, but is another kind of fish from Greece. The old-fashioned way to prepare it is to light newspaper under the fish to further smoke it and eat it cold. Or, take off the skin, cut into pieces, dress it with oil and vinegar and serve as an hors d'oeuvre on toast. The roe can be beaten with lemon juice and oil and spread on bread, topped with a piece of fish. "It makes you thirsty," warns Skenderis' owner.
We found it has a very powerful smoky and salty taste. Perhaps it could be soaked for American palates.
Lakerda - $3.59 for a 10 ounce jar at Skenderis.This is another Greek specialty, which can be served with lemon wedges and toast. The tasters found it unacceptable.
Salt Mackeral - $2.20 per pound at Cannon. Extremely salty; soak to use.
There will be a second part to Resolute Shopper's dried fish: Smoked, pickled and dried salmon. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption