Pickled Herring and Potato Salad


Together with vinegared herring, lightly cured herring plays a big role in Northern European, German and Slavic countries and is also often associated with the Jewish cuisine. People who didn’t grow up in these cultures may be put off at first by the cured herring’s strong smell and taste, but they usually end up in succumbing to its addictive, complex flavour and mellow, meaty texture. While the vinegared herring is usually served on its own, in different sauces, the lightly cured herring is also often found in salads and this is the way I prefer it.

Herring has been preserved in brine since the Middle Ages, but the salt concentration was so high, the fish had to be desalted bo soaking before it was consumed. In the XIIIth century the Dutch have improved this process creating a light brining technique, which doesn’t require desalting. “Maatjesharing”, often called “maatjes” is an example of this curing technique and is now readily available in many European countries, usually sold covered in oil.

I love cured herring, but usually crave it on cold days. However, watching the infinite variety of herring dishes on Three-Cookies blog, I simply couldn’t resist the temptation to make a herring salad in spite of the hot weather. Thus, I have discovered that a herring and potato salad is a very refreshing dish, well adapted to sunny Summer weather. This salad is probably the oldest and the simplest one I have ever made. I have been preparing it since I was a teenager and whenever I want a simple herring dish, it is the first thing I think of. The reason is simple: potatoes, onions and mayonnaise are simply the winning company for cured herring. I usually have this salad as a main dish with bread (black bread is particularly advised here!), but it can be also a starter, in which case it serves 6. I often combine it with brine-pickled (fermented) cucumbers (see the TIP below).

If you want to see myriads of herring cold and hot dishes ideas, visit either Three-Cookies (a great day-by-day read) or Easily Good Eats (a collection of recipes), both blogs by the same author, a real herring connoisseur, who I hope, will decide one day to write a herring cookery book. (I am already queueing up for a signed copy!).

Just before the recipe details I would like to share with you this funny and scary fragment of a Japanese cartoon, featuring not the herring but a very courageous potato:

TIP: As you might have noticed on the photo, I have added some brine pickled cucumbers (also known as “fermented cucumbers”). They are not obligatory but their sour taste goes perfectly well with this salad. You can find them in Central and Eastern European grocery shops. In order to make sure you don’t buy vinegar-pickled cucumbers, make sure the water in the jar is slightly “muddy” and there is a whiteish sediment on the bottom. Sometimes they are also sold in plastic bags, in the refrigerated section. Then you know they are brine-pickled, not vinegared.

Preparation: 30 minutes + 2 – 3 hours chilling in the fridge

Ingredients (serves 3 as a main dish):

400 g  cured herrings in oil

1 medium onion

1 kg potatoes

(3 medium brine pickled cucumbers)

a couple of tablespoon mayonnaise

pepper, salt

Cook the potatoes, peel them and cut into bite-sized pieces.

Drain the herring, cut it into bite-sized pieces too.

Chop the onion.

Combine the herring, the warm potatoes, the mayonnaise, add salt, pepper, the onion and put into the fridge for at least 2 hours.

32 Replies to “Pickled Herring and Potato Salad”

  1. LOL!!!!!!! Sissi, how did you find this video clip!??! After living outside of Japan for…sometime… do you get Japanese humor???? LOL….

    I have seen Mr. Three-Cookies’s herring series and always want to eat them. I love the idea of eating with potato salad! This sounds really yummy!!!

    1. I totally deleted my sentence when I was editing… sorry. I meant, after living outside for sometime, I started to understand Japanese humor is pretty different from other countries…..do you get Japanese humor?

      1. Thank you, Nami! I don’t remember how I found this video, but I kept the link on my computer and every time I watch it, it makes me laugh and I think “the Japanese are really crazy” 😉
        I am not sure if I get all the Japanese humour, but I enjoy watching Japanese comedies, which are often…. simply crazy.

  2. I never tried cured herring before but I guess it would be similar to the Spanish bachalau where fish is preserved in lots of salt and you have to soak it in water first before using.

    1. Raymund, “maatjas” herrings don’t require any soaking or desalting. It has nothing to do with the Spanish or Portuguese bacalao (which I love too!). You simply take out the herrings out of the oil and eat them! (Unless you want to put them in a salad of course!) They are not very salty either.

  3. Thanks for the mention. “Herring connoisseur” – great title:)

    I totally agree, this cold salad would be really really refreshing for a hot day. Funny thing, I planned to have herring and potato today for lunch and smiled when I saw this post!

    1. Mr. Three-Cookies, you ARE a herring connoisseur. If I ever look for new herring dish ideas, your blog is the best source I know!

  4. Yummy Sissi, I thought you were going all scandinavian on me! The Swedish eat a lot of herring too – soused, pickled etc and this seems quite similar to something my wife makes and I LOVE it so much. Seriously, herring, potato and onion with a bit of creaminess, either from mayo or from yoghurt or something has to be one of the best comfort foods! Next time you should try putting a sliced egg on top for the ultimate in awesomeness.

    Also, just remembered – if you like this, you should try “matjessil salad” – it’s quite similar to this. I posted a recipe a few weeks ago about it here!

    1. Thank you, Charles. Thanks for the egg suggestion. Actually I often add eggs to this salad, they are perfect, I totally agree. Pickled cucumber are great too. Thanks for the link, I didn’t known your blog then, otherwise I would certainly remember this beautiful salad! It reminds me of a herring salad I sometimes make (but which is a bit long to make) and where I put also beetroot… I will post it some day!

      1. Wow, I just came back to this post and I noticed you’re talking about “maatjes” at the top… I think I completely missed that the first time I read it. That explains why the Swedish herring is is called “matjessill” (the two languages are sometimes very similar). I was trying to work out for a long time where the name came from 😀

  5. I’ve never had herring with potato salad before. The Herring that I grew up with in the Philippines is the dried and salty version (Tuyo) which is almost like a staple food, so your dish elevated the familiar Herring to a higher level. Loved the short video you have there. Thank you for sharing.

    This is the first time I’ve visited your site and it’s very nice.

    – Best wishes –


    1. Hi Ray, thank you for your kind comment! And welcome to my blog! Actually this herring is only slightly salted, and in brine, so it keeps its moisture and shape. It can be eaten straight away from the jar with oil with a bit of chopped onion. The dried and salty Philippino herring is probably closer to the Spanish/Portuguese dried cod (bacalao). It sounds very interesting and if it’s similar to bacalao, I’m sure I’d like it! Thank you for visiting!

  6. Hahahahahahaha, that video clip is INSANE! I loved it!

    I am a big fan of potato salads, though never had it with herring, I am not even sure whether I’ve ever tasted herring… Salted fish is pretty common in Chinese cooking, but I don’t think my Mom does much of it so I am not familiar… Thanks for sharing the recipe, and of course the video clip, puts a big smile on my face!

    1. Thank you Jeno! This herring is not really salted… I mean it’s preserved in a brine (solution of water and salt), so it’s not very salty nor dry and can be eaten straight from the jar! I am glad you liked the video 🙂

  7. I cannot stop laughing!!! I’m going to have to rethink the vegetable soup I was going to have for lunch!

    1. I am very happy you enjoyed the video! I hope it will not stop you from eating potatoes 😉

  8. Love the clip…Watched it twice…made me laugh out aloud….Love the potato salad and herring will be replaced by maybe artichokes ….perfect for a light lunch…I now will think of all the murders (suicides) that are committed by the lovely vegetables when they go into my curry or soup…ha! ha!

    1. Thank you so much, Shilpa! Artichokes sound like a good idea. I must have watched this video at least 20 times and I laugh each time. I see I am not the only fan of the Japanese humour 😉

  9. I love sardines and anchovies, so it’s not much of a stretch. But it wasn’t a common ingredient for me growing up. This looks really good!

  10. Ha! I think this is your counterpart to my sardine post. Indeed, I never had herring before living in the Czech Republic. Pickled herring goes wonderfully with nice Czech beer. Remind me to try this in a few months (seems like a nice fall or winter dish–we’ve just been too hot lately).

    1. Hi Sara! Actually I discovered the chilled potato and herring salad is very refreshing during hot days! (I was surprised and thought, as you herring was the Autumn-Winter fish). I didn’t know they had it in Czech Republic. Apparently the only part of Europe where it’s not popular is the South and maybe UK…

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