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From the North Sea to New York City: The Culinary Journey of Herring’s Seasonal Delight

Published: August 16, 2023
For the gastronomically enlightened, the meat of herring is a springtime gem. There's a fleeting 4-week period each year when the North Sea herring is at its culinary pinnacle — succulent, buttery, with a gentle, salty undertone. It's akin to the finest sashimi in its delectability. (Image: Manos Angelakis/Luxury Web)

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The new herring season has recently concluded, and there’s no need to hail from the Netherlands, Sweden, or any nation bordering Europe’s North and Baltic Seas to appreciate the allure of herring.

The Dutch eagerly await the end of May, for it heralds the commencement of the herring fishing season. By the first week of June, the “Nieuwe Maatjes” or “New Catch Holland Herring” graces the shores. The catch comprises young, immature herring, at least three years old and of a specific size. Their fat content must be a minimum of 16 percent — a milestone they achieve post their spring feast on plankton. This necessitates the herring season to stretch from mid-May until early August.

(Image: Manos Angelakis/Luxury Web)

For the gastronomically enlightened, this fish is a springtime gem. There’s a fleeting 4-week period each year when the North Sea herring is at its culinary pinnacle — succulent, buttery, with a gentle, salty undertone. It’s akin to the finest sashimi in its delectability.

In the Netherlands, the arrival of the new catch is akin to a national festivity. The first barrel to dock is auctioned for charity. The fish emerges as a sought-after treat and a staple of street food, particularly during June and July. As the year progresses, the matured fish is savored, albeit with heavier salting.

(Image: via Manos Angelakis/Luxury Web)

Air express ensures the fresh catch reaches global markets swiftly. The creme de la creme land at posh New York City eateries and select stores like Russ and Daughters. This establishment, a principal importer situated on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, 34th Street, 10th Avenue, and in Brooklyn, proudly offers the initial batches of this catch.

In the Big Apple, herring is presented nearly whole. Only the head, innards, and spine are taken out, leaving two fillets attached by the tail. A visit to Grand Central’s Oyster Bar offers a visual treat — they arrange the fillets in a ‘V’ shape — garnishing them with hard-boiled egg, diced onion, and minced chives. In contrast, the Dutch and Belgians, only discard the head and innards, consuming the fish in its entirety, backbone included.

Northern Europeans, from Scandinavians, Brits, Russians to Germans, have always considered herring a staple. French folk grill it with mustard sauce, while the British transform it into breakfast kippers. Across various nations, herrings are embellished with spices, salt, mustard, curry, pickles, and numerous other accompaniments.

(Image: Manos Angelakis/Luxury Web)

Despite the European enthusiasm, Americans, unless of foreign descent, are generally aloof from the herring scene. They’ve integrated the fish into idioms like “red herrings” and whimsical verses about “herring boxes.” But beyond these, herrings are seldom a topic of conversation in the States.

However, for those in the know, especially during early June, fresh herring is an esteemed delicacy, deserving of a spot on the finest plates.

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