Every now and then I get the urge to have rollmops (aka pickled herrings). I think it’s because my German father was partial to things Nordic and pickled and as such we always had a jar of rollmops in the fridge. I could never go past the first one though because of the mouth-puckering tartness and salty after-taste of the herring’s flesh. Nonetheless, I get the nostalgic need to revisit the flavour to this day and wind up buying a jar just to have that one herring. The rest then remains largely uneaten until my next clean-out.
It never occurred to me to try and make my own rollmops until I watched an episode of River Cottage. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall made it look so easy that I literally went out and got some herring fillets the next day. I searched for Hugh’s recipe online to verify the ingredients and steps I missed on TV and I read the reassuring comment:
“Some commercial rollmops are pickled in brutally acidic distilled vinegar, which obliterates their oily succulence and flavour. It’s immensely satisfying to make your own…”
Perhaps it wasn’t just me after all who loved the idea of pickled herring but got let down by how harsh the reality was. I became even more enthusiastic to try making my own, particularly as Hugh’s recipe uses cider vinegar as well as apple cider, and I had in hand just the type for savoury dishes: Rekorderlig’s Orange-Ginger cider.
However, I was almost stymied by the lack of mustard seeds in my local area. Seriously, three shops that sold everything from juniper berries to nigella seeds failed to replenish their mustard seed stock! I ended up getting a sachet of all-purpose pickling mix which contained mustard seeds and a few other aromatics not used by Hugh but I think he’d welcome the addition anyway.
I immediately got my herrings into a brine bath and marvelled at how the fillets did indeed float in the highly salted water. I then prepared the pickling marinade and waited for everything to cool down or get briny. I decided not to be too thorough with removing the tiny pin bones of the herrings since the pickling process would render them into mush, but if you absolutely detest bones, knock yourself out.
Rolling the herring fillets did take some practice but by the time I did my last piece, I was a dab hand at it. I placed my rollmops into a pickling jar with the cooled down marinade, sealed it, placed it in the fridge and forgot about it. Literally. Two weeks later when I realised that I’d even exceeded the recommended 10-days, I tried a rollmop. It was amazing! The sourness was pleasant on the palate and the herrings didn’t have any nasty residual saline taste.
What was really delicious was the taste of cider coming through which I didn’t expect. The orange flavour was subtle and the ginger blended in nicely with all the other aromatics. Best of all, the herrings remained plump and fatty.
I’m happy to say that I’m going to be able to finish the entire jar of these rollmops. I will save some for another recipe idea coming up though :)
Cider Pickled Rollmops
6 herrings, filleted
500ml cold water
400ml cider vinegar
3/4 bottle of Rekorderlig Orange-Ginger cider (or plain apple cider)
1 tsp black peppercorns
6 bay leaves
1 slice of fresh ginger
1 tbsp light brown sugar
1 tsp mustard seeds (alternatively, use a tsp of all-purpose pickling aromatics mix)
Zest of 1 large orange, pared into wide strips with no white pith
1 small brown onion, very thinly sliced
Medium/large pickling jar (well cleaned or sterilised if preferred) and toothpicks/skewers.
To Make: Dissolve salt in cold water to make a brine, then add the fillets. Leave for two to three hours. Prepare marinade by placing all remaining ingredients into a medium saucepan and bringing to a boil gently. Allow to simmer for one minute then set aside to cool down to room temperature. Halve herring fillets and roll as tightly as possible, using a toothpick or skewer to hold in place. When all pieces are rolled, place into pickling jar and pour marinade in until all rollmops are covered. Seal jar and store in fridge for at least three days. The best time to eat them are from five to ten days but the rollmops will keep for a month.