Last week, Delicious Days featured an interview with René Redzepi, a chef of Noma, a renowned Danish restaurant, which was voted the world's best restaurant by a British magazine "Restaurant". Noma's menu draws on the Nordic culinary tradition, and is sometimes described as new Nordic cuisine, a term René does not like.
I associate Nordic cuisine mostly with fish and in particular herrings. I remember excellent Dutch Maatjesharing (or Matjes as the Germans call them) and many varieties of Scandinavian herring, which have become very popular in the world through IKEA. But I also discovered that at Noma they use a lot of sorrel, a vegetable that grows in Poland like a weed, and which we use to make a sour soup.
After reading this interview, I came to the conclusion that although Polish cuisine is generally classified as Eastern European, it has a lot of Nordic character to it. This is probably because of the Baltic sea, the cold climate, and long winters we have. Herrings, potatoes, blueberries, sorrel, unique grains, and many preserves that we eat during winter months make our cuisine more Nordic than Eastern European with which we share the affinity for all kinds of noodles, pancakes, and dumplings (e.g., Polish pierogi).
Among all these Nordic elements, herrings have a particularly strong culinary tradition in Poland. Herrings preserved well in salt, oil, or vinegar and therefore they could be transported far in land and were available all year round. Herrings were often served on Fridays, during Lent, and are a very important part of the traditionally vegetarian Christmas Eve supper.
Many years ago, a new recipe for herrings came to my home, and ever since it has been my favorite way to prepare them, even though I am not a big herring lover. This is the only herring dish that I eat eagerly. It was called "Herring à la Japonaise", but please do not ask me why. Probably, because it was very different from the traditional Polish way of serving herrings.
When my foreign friends, perhaps out of curiosity, ask me to prepare herrings, this is the way I serve them, for the fear that if I had done it the typical Polish way (with sour cream and onion), their taste would be too harsh for those who never had them before. Originally we use for that recipe salted herrings, but any herrings preserved in oil, especially Matjes will do. You can get them at Scandinavian or Eastern European food stores. All the additional ingredients make it taste less "herringish" and for those who love sushi and seafood in general it can be an interesting new experience.
This recipe uses the whole package of herrings, so at the end the amount of salad is pretty big and it can serve 4-6 Polish or Scandinavians, probably 8-10 Japanese, and easily 20 other people, who never tried herrings before.
Herring à la Japonaise
4-6 herring fillets in oil, neutral, no spices, Matjes are the best,
1 cup cornichons (dill pickles),
1 medium sweet onion,
1 cup mushrooms in vinegar,
1 can (15 oz) green peas,
1 can (6 oz) of tomato paste,
1/2 cup grape seeds oil or any other neutral vegetable oil,
freshly ground pepper.
1. Cut herrings, cucumbers, onion, and mushrooms into very small cubes and put them together in a bowl.
2. Rinse the peas in water and add them to the mix.
3. In a separate bowl, mix gently the tomato paste, oil, and pepper until you obtain a smooth dressing.
4. Pour it over the herring/vegetable mix and combine gently not to destroy the texture of the salad (the ingredients should not get mashed).
5. Let it marinate for about 2 hours in a refrigerator and serve.
It is a nice party snack that should be served in small portions with small pieces of baguette. If you have available some Japanese style spoons, or so now popular in Europe "petites cuillères" they are excellent for that purpose. As Japanese serve their fish with sake,in Poland we serve it with a shot of icy cold vodka.