Maybe it's my German roots, but I have always loved pickled foods: dill pickles, pickled beets, olives, sauerkraut, and, especially, pickled herring.
One of the things that the celebration of Christmas and New Year's Eve brings to mind for me is pickled herring. Herring was always one of the special treats my family offered to relatives and friends who came to our house to enjoy the holidays with us.
I can't remember a time I didn't love to eat herring served on crackers. Of course, I'm referring to herring we bought that came in a glass jar -- from the grocery store a twenty-minute car ride away. (Today, that seems like a short drive to me -- about the time it takes me to drive to work -- but back in the day, growing up on my Iowa farm, that was considered an excursion.
Later on, back in the 80s after I moved to the big city of Minneapolis, I remember a time when, just before driving home to Iowa for Christmas, I made a special trip to Ingebretsen's to buy their fresh, pickled herring. Ingebretsen's is a renowned Scandinavian deli, on East Lake Street in South Minneapolis -- and just the place where I knew I could get the best herring ever. As a matter of fact, they had at least four varieties of pickled herring: herring in wine sauce, herring in mustard, in dill, and in sour cream.
Now this herring wasn't in some small glass jar on a refrigerated shelf. No, this herring came in nice, long, narrow strips -- a couple inches wide and at least a foot long. Each type of herring waited in its own container behind the long counter, before which I patiently waited for my number to be called. Later I would cut these strips into bite-sized squares. I bought two or three kinds before leaving to make the four-and-a-half-hour drive south to what I still considered my real home, the family farm.
Now this year I traveled with Peach to Iowa for Christmas -- but I totally forgot to buy herring! In retrospect that may have been due to the fact that I'd already made and eaten pickled salmon I had prepared for my office Christmas party -- which I ended up missing due to catching that nasty cold that's going around. But that's the great thing about pickling. It makes very perishable food last, which is something my German folk understood very well.
I got the recipe from my friend, Mt. Gourmet, a lover of fine food and drink, as well as a hiker-extraordinaire of mountains: Tamalpais, Diablo, Whitney, and yes, even Kilimanjaro. She introduced me to pickled salmon at her annual "NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Get-Together," where she always serves an amazing spread of delicious delicacies.
Now I admit I don't follow men's basketball, but I do follow Mt. Gourmet's flair in the kitchen and was instantly hooked on her pickled salmon, which tasted oh so similar to my beloved pickled herring. I begged her for the recipe, even before the final buzzer sounded.
This recipe is very, very easy to make. The hardest part for me was trimming the skin off the salmon and pulling the tiny bones out. But even that's not too difficult.
I bought a packet of pickling spices at Farmer Joe's. (Actually I bought all my ingredients there -- including the wild salmon, which really cost me an arm and a leg this time.)
According to the Joy of Cooking: 75th Anniversary Edition, pickling spices usually contain a blend of mustard seeds, cinnamon, ginger, bay leaves, pepper, allspice, caraway seeds, cloves, mace, and cardamom.
I prepared this dish a good three days before and then it lasted a good long while in my refrigerator for ongoing snacking purposes. (I prefer Deli-Style Rye Triscuits as an accompaniment -- I don't consider Triscuits SOLE food, but I have yet to find a comparable replacement. And maybe that's because I grew up eating things on Triscuits and so it just tastes best to me. However, if you have a SOLE cracker suggestion, I'd love to hear from you.)
(based on a recipe by Joyce Goldstein)
2 cups white vinegar
1-1/2 cups water
6 T. sugar
2 T. kosher salt
2 lbs. salmon fillet, skin and bones removed
2 T. pickling spices
6 bay leaves
2 white or yellow onions, sliced 1/4 inch thick
First bring the vinegar, water, sugar, and salt to a boil. Then let this mixture cool completely.
In the meantime, cut the salmon into 1 inch by 2 inch pieces.
In a ceramic crock or glass bowl, place a layer of salmon pieces, then a sprinking of pickling spices and bay leaves, a layer of onions, then another layer of salmon, etc., continuing until you have used all the cooled marinade over the fish. Cover the container. Refrigerate 3-4 days (or more).
Serve the salmon, along with its marinated onions.