Fancy Fish:My red herring – a light lunch with grilled tomatoes and herring fillets
When time is scarce and you are hungry, a quick snack is often the only option. Luckily, summer is around the corner and offers a variety of quick and easy, healthy and delicious meals. For me nothing expresses summer on a plate better than a few luscious and sweet, ripe and deeply red tomatoes. And in combination with my grilled herring fillet, they make for the perfect summer lunch. A crisp bread, spread thickly with ricotta, scattered with grilled tomatoes and basil, topped with tender and rich herring fillets, my red herring is a summer snack as it should be. Light and delicious, robust and very clear-cut. And the best bit, making it won’t take longer than 5 minutes. But the result will be ever so rewarding.
To me summer is the season of ripe and deeply red tomatoes and I try to have them as often as I can. Quite fortunately my family is growing tomatoes on a fairly large scale – so during the summer-months I live in abundance. I love these little red fruits, because they can stand some robust and clear-cut flavours without ever loosing their delicacy and subtle sweetness. To me many memories are connected, in one way or another, to food. And whenever I think of summer-holidays I think of grilled fish with some luscious sweet tomatoes much like my panseared mackerel fillets with tomato-sauce. Interestingly enough, though, I never actually made any of these summer-holiday memories. No grilled fish with tomatoes for me Ever. But my brain doesn’t really care about that, it mixes ideal meals, things I have heard Nigel Slater say or Jamie Oliver write and some real memories together, to create the longing for a this brilliant combination in me. And sometimes the urge gets so overpoweringly strong, that I just have to give in. Today is such a day. A few weeks ago, when I made my lemon salmon with creamed grean-bean pasta, I wrote about my concerns with my own responsibility as a consumer and the things I can do to make sustainability more sustainable. And I believe I found, at least partly, a way to work around these problems. The answer is suprisingly unsuprising: Local seasonal produce. Take what is, right now, abundant where you live.
Right now the Dutch are crazy about what is called Hollandse Nieuwe, young herring partially fermented with its own pancreatic enzymes in a salt-brine. Hollandse nieuwe are basically raw and eaten, as they are with chopped onions. It’s quite an interesting sight, really. People tilt their heads back and eat their fish like others swallow swords. This Dutch version of sashimi has its very own appeal, the matie is tender and not as salty as you would expect. The dish I am making with it, is greatly benefitting from the change in texture of the meat. The fermenting process firms the meat up and, at the same time, makes it more tender and much easier to digest (And we all know how important good digestion is).
While quite delicious, hollandse nieuwe are not the best choice in terms of sustainability. While herring populations are, at least in the north-sea, generally stable, they suffer from too much premature fish being caught. Hollandse nieuwe have not had the chance to procreate yet, they are virgins (what a sad death…isn’t it?) – if you have the choice for dishes like this, go for a more mature herring (a fillet of about 17 cm length would be best). This way the population has a chance to expand, rather than to plateau.
Instead of eating them as they are, I like to grill my herring fillet (I hear the Dutch gasping already). The meat is rather tender and soft, has an appealing saltiness to it and a subtle richness many other fish are missing. My red herring is a terribly easy and fast dish. I kid you not when I tell you that it takes about five minutes to make. The fish only needs a few minutes in the pan to reach its full flavour potential and the tomatoes are done in no time too. I love my herring with a bit of ricotta, some grilled tomatoes and aromatic basil for a quick summer lunch. This dish doesn’t take much time or patience but it will be ever so rewarding and, if your herring is local and in season, quite a sustainable choice.
My red herring – a light lunch with grilled tomatoes and herring fillets