The herring usually measures between 15 - 30 centimetres but can grow to be almost 45 centimetres long, and it can weigh anywhere from 250 - 750 grams. The shape of the herring varies slightly depending on its species and habitat. Covered with large, soft, easily removable scales, its body ends in a forked tail. The dorsal skin of the herring is blue-green or blue-black, and its sides are a silvery colour. Its eggs are unusual in that they are denser than water, and thus sink to the bottom of the sea and become attached to seaweed and rocks.
One of most common saltwater fish, the herring is also among the most frequently caught fish in the world. Prehistoric engravings depicting its capture confirm that it has been eaten since the earliest days of human history.
Herring swim in dense schools near the surface of the ocean and were once so plentiful that these schools covered large parts of the Atlantic and the Pacific. Although over fishing has greatly reduced herring stocks, the herring fishery remains one of most important components of the fishing industry in many countries.
Herring is high in fat and rich in B-complex vitamins, phosphorus, and potassium. Its white flesh is fatty and flavourful, and the many bones it contains are easy to remove.
Herring is usually sold fresh or frozen, either whole or in fillets, but is also canned, marinated, salted, and smoked.
Merely washing them can usually scale herring, and they can be gutted through the gills or by severing the spine just behind the head.
Fresh herring is delicious grilled, baked, or fried but is too fragile to be steamed or poached. It should not be overcooked.
Herring can be substituted for mackerel in most recipes. Frequently marinated, smoked, or canned, herring is usually sold as one of following products: marinated herring, smoked herring, saur herring, bloaters, bucklings, or kippers.
Marinated Herring is completely deboned and fried, then marinated in oil, wine, tomato sauce, or vinegar. The canned sardines sold in North America are actually marinated herring.
Smoked Herring is either hot-smoked (slightly cooked over direct heat) or cold smoked (smoked for a longer period of time, away from the heat).
Saur Herring is named for the reddish brown colour the fish takes on when it is cold-smoked for a long period of time. It is salted for 2 – 6 days before it is smoked and may or may not be gutted.
Whole Saur herring are stored in barrels or wooden crates and are sold individually; saur herring fillets are sold either in packages or in cans. It is also possible to buy marinated saur herring and canned saur herring eggs. This kind of herring will keep for 12 – 15 days.
Bloaters are ungutted, usually whole herring that have been lightly salted (for 1 day at most) and then moderately hot- or cold-smoked. They will keep for about 5 days.
Bucklings are herring that have been pickled in brine for a few hours and then smoked. Particularly popular in Holland and Germany, they are partially cooked during the smoking process and can be eaten without being cooked any further. This kind of herring will keep for about 4 days.
Kippers are large herring that have been beheaded, slit open, deboned, flattened, and lightly cold-smoked. Sold fresh, frozen, canned, or in ready-to-cook bags, they can be eaten “as is” or cooked for a few minutes. They will keep for 4 days.