Layered Herring Salad

layeredsalad_I have been meaning to post this recipe a long time ago, but no matter what I did this dish always looked unappetising. Finally I started to think it was a part of its charm, visible only to an adventurous gourmet’s or a herring fan’s eyes. My cousin had discovered it at a party where this salad was the only item no one wanted to touch. As a daring gourmet, she took a generous portion, urged by the hostess, who told her that as soon as one of the skeptical guests tasted it, it would disappear in no time at all. She was right and I’m happy my cousin asked for the recipe. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have discovered the most irresistible herring salad which has been my favourite for almost ten years.ย If you like herring, you will find yourself unable to stop eating it. If you are a beetroot hater, you must absolutely taste it anyway (I know people who hate beetroot but love this salad). If you are Mr. Three-Cookies (from theย Three-Cookies blog), I bet you will adore it! (For those who don’t know the Three-Cookies blog, its author is a big herring – and of course cookies – connoisseur and if I eat more of this fish this year, it’s certainly thanks to his inventive and frequent herring dishes.)

This complete-meal salad calls for soused herring (thank you Charles), labeled “matjes”/”maatjes”/”matjas” and sometimes simply “herring in oil”. Since apparently matjes can in some countries mean herring without oil (thank you, Mr. Three-Cookies), I thought the best advice would be to say the herring used here shouldn’t be very sour. All the ingredients are perfect paired with herrings and the layering isn’t only for decoration. The order of layers is not accidental either. Onions must absolutely touch the herring, since their flavours merge when you put the salad in the fridge (several hours are obligatory!). Potatoes have a neutral taste, so they don’t disrupt the onion and herring combination. Eggs come just under the mayonnaise (how could I possible separate eggs from mayonnaise?) and the beetroot brings a nice, sweetish, refreshing touch in the middle.

I will be honest: the more mayonnaise you put on top, the better the salad will be. On the other hand, if you want to make this lighter, you can mix the mayonnaise with some yogurt or sour cream, but the taste will be slightly “thinner”. The ingredients’ amounts are totally up to you, as long as no layer is skipped. The original recipe calls for grated eggs, but I have discovered chopping them finely creates the same taste result, so I stopped the arduous process of egg grating.

I would have almost forgotten to mention this salad is an excellent hangover soother.

If you have difficulties with finding pickled herring, look for Russian or Polish grocers. They will certainly carry both vinegared and “matjes” herrings.

If you look for an easier, but delicious herring salad, try myย Herring and Potato Salad.

Preparation: 1 hour + at least 5 hours in the fridge (but it’s best left overnight)

Ingredients (serves 4 or 6 as a main dish):

250 g drained “matjes” (soused) herring

2 medium onions

4 big potatoes

2 big beetroots

4 – 5 eggs

10 heaped tablespoons mayonnaise (or more), or a mixture of mayonnaise + sour cream/yogurt (don’t use low-fat yogurt)



Cook the potatoes, the beetroots and the eggs.

Let them cool down.

Cut the herring into bite-sized pieces and place at the bottom of a big salad dish.

Chop the onion and sprinkle over the herring.

Peel the potatoes and grate them over the onions.

Season generously with salt and pepper.

Peel the beetroots and grate them over the potatoes.

Chop the eggs finely and sprinkle over the beetroot layer.

Season with salt and pepper and cover with mayonnaise.

Cover the bowl with cling film and put into the fridge for at least 5 hours, but the best results are after a night in the fridge.

48 Replies to “Layered Herring Salad”

  1. You and Mr Three Cookies are crazy about herring!! I love how you mentioned his name here haha! I’m so curious to try this salad Sissi. I bet the sales of herring will go up thanks to you two! Enjoyed your writing Sissi. You should be a food writer. You bring great resource and fun to food lovers. Have a great weekend!

    1. Nami, you are so kind and sweet, but my writing (at least in English) is more than unsatisfactory. I wished I could express all I feel and all I want to communicate in the style that doesn’t make me feel ashamed…
      I would say I like herring a lot (especially the salted one, I am even wondering if it’s not umami… must check what say the specialists with more educated palates) and if I had such a choice of herrings available as Mr. Three-Cookies does, I would have it once a week at least! Have a great weekend too!

        1. Mr. Three-Cookies, it’s THE news of the week (or even of the year)! I appreciate now herring even more (I’ll make another salad tomorrow). Thank you so much for the research!

  2. Mr. Three-Cookies adores this and disagrees with you that the photo is unappetising:)

    I have never seen or heard of this salad, definitely trying it for sure. I can imagine it working beautifully together.

    “this salad was the only item no one wanted to touch” – funny, bit sad and also good. It means more for those who like it!

    1. Thank you so much, Mr. Three-Cookies. I am relieved you like it (for a moment I was scared I was wrong!). For me it looks also appetising, but I thought i was the only one! I am happy there is two of us! You are right: I would be happy to be the only one to dare touching it on a party ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. You’re too funny Sissi. My favourite line: “my cousin had discovered it at a party where this salad was the only item no one wanted to touch” – ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m very glad you posted it and I don’t find the picture unappetizing in the least but can relate to the concern – in fact, I was just chatting with another blogger about this – how we have certain posts that are relegated to purgatory for weeks before we decide whether they look ‘good enough’ to post…. Apart from the very cool layered look (the beets really pop), I just love how your food is a different experience from what I’m accustomed to (in this case, the classic layered cob salad). I am always learning from your posts. Keep being you.

    1. Kelly, you always cheer me up with your comments! Actually, I have lots of dishes I make several times and never post because they look awful (and if I only have them at night, it’s even more difficult). I know I should have a real photo studio, with special lamps, a better camera, but I am not ready for this. I should also pay more attention to presentation.
      I must tell you the same thing: when I look at your dishes, it seems completely different from what I eat (although we both use regularly agave syrup!). I have never even heard of layered cob salad. I must google it. Thank you for all the kind words! You have put me in a very joyful mood.

      1. There’s a beautiful passage in one of Leonard Cohen’s songs (Anthem) that I often come back to: “Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” It makes me smile and reminds me that beauty is often born of vulnerability and imperfection. I hope you like it too ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Thank you so much, Jeno. Now that I think of it, it’s funny that children hate beetroots; they love colourful sweets at the same time!

  4. A dish that looks unappetising but tastes delicious is like a woman who is modest looking but a great lover in the bedroom ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

    I always found Europeans and Scandinavians eating smelly herrings to be really cool and exotic. And a hangover cure, most definitely especially on a Saturday morning like this, I’m going to have my scotch on the rocks for brekky ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. I didn’t know that saying! I don’t really realised that herring is unknown outside of Europe… I know they don’t like it or eat it in Southern Europe (maybe only the fresh one). Another hangover cure is a small beer (apparently bubbles in the beer are good for hangover and a tiny amount of alcohol helps to calm the organism, the thing is it shouldn’t be a start of another drinking night ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

      1. I just made up the saying for the fun of it ๐Ÿ™‚ More alcohol for a hangover cure, yes! Over here, it’s called “Hair of the dog”but I believe it originated from England.

        Cheers! ๐Ÿ™‚

        1. You are as inventive in language as in cooking ๐Ÿ™‚ I have never heard of “hair of the dog”, thank you, next time I have a hangover drink, I’ll know how to call it ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. I know exactly what you mean about unappetising… I mean I grew up eating it every other day and loved it, even as a child, but it just looks like, welll, not nice.

    Mum used to add grated cheese and pickles to her version, and dad made his with finely sliced onion and green apples. Yuuuum!

    I do have a jar of the Swedish herring salad from IKEA in the fridge. Might have this for supper tonight. It’s 6:30pm and I am still full from tapas for lunch.

    1. It’s funny because I never seem to mind unapettising looking dishes on the table. I find them amusing, but not when I want to post them. I remember being angry when I watched my mum decorate all the dishes for a party. I think I should have learnt more about the decoration instead of finding it useless.
      Grated cheese and pickles sound also like a great combination.
      I also sometimes buy products at IKEA, but find most herrings too sweet… (On the other hand their fish roe paste is the absolute winner!).

  6. It looks lovely and I’ll definitely eat it if it was served at a party! you know what? I haven’t actually tried herring sad is that? However, i think there might be a polish grocer near my office so i will have to drop by soon to check it out!

    1. Thank you so much, Sylvia! You are invited whenever you want ๐Ÿ™‚
      If you have never tasted herring, it might be wiser to taste it vinegared, in a sauce, first. The shock will be limited ๐Ÿ˜‰ Usually Polish grocers carry different types of herrings in sauces, I think my favourite was always the mustard sauce. I think vinegared herring in sauce is easier to like for the first time. If you like it, you can move on to the “serious” thing, e.i. herring in oil.

        1. I shall put it this way: I know people who love vinegared herring, but don’t like the one in oil, but I don’t know anyone who would like the latter and hate the former. Maybe you will be the first one? Seriously, I wouldn’t like to put you off herring in general, that is why I advised trying the vinegared for example in mustard or dill sauce. It’s a bit like advising someone who doesn’t drink alcohol to try a cocktail first and then try a pure vodka shot ๐Ÿ˜‰

  7. Hi Sissi – I think matjes herring might be correctly termed as “soused herring” in English – at least that’s what I found from my investigations when writing up my own matjes herring post. It might help people find it in stores if they’re having problems finding “cured herring”, and I completely agree – replacing with vinegared herring would be a big change. Not perhaps negative, but I’d definitely prefer soused.

    I know I would just adore the salad (I’m a bit of a mayonnaise fiend too!!!) and it really looks beautiful – though it can be hard to photograph things which are completely covered in sauce, especially when they don’t have a definite “structure” and flop all over the plate when served! I’ll remember to try your salad the next time we swing by IKEA to stock up on some Swedish food for my wife ๐Ÿ˜€

    1. Thank you so much, Charles. I will update my post and future ones if I ever talk about this herring. In my Swiss supermarket (I am so happy to find it there and wonder who buys them, apart from me!) they are called “matjes” in all the three languages! (we have all the labels in three official languages, I only regret the fourth one doesn’t appear), so I thought it was an international-Swedish term ๐Ÿ˜‰ Photographing it was awful! I wanted to put some chives or parsley on top, but it would be break the “seriousness” of the whole salad! I think it looks delicious only to those who have tasted it.

      1. The ‘matjes’ herring I buy here is not in oil but brine with vinegar etc. Herring in oil is uncommon here, and it seems to be the opposite in Soviet Republics, Eastern/Central Europe etc. Does your recipe suggest herring in oil or herring in brine?

        1. Mr. Three-Cookies, I am sorry, I would have almost made you prepare this salad with vinegared herring. I am completely lost now… but will explain maybe in a more precise way in my post that it should be herring in oil. Matjes is salted herring in oil in Poland and in Switzerland. I thought it was the same in Sweden and frankly everywhere in the world… Thank you for this information! (Does it mean all the herrings sold in Sweden are slightly sour, e.i. vinegared?)

          1. Hahaha, I noticed you initially wrote by mistake “Matjes is salted oil in brine” – I thought oil and water together was something unique:) One of the more well known companies in Sweden dealing with herring is ABBA (not related to the singers i think). Here you can see their matjes selection:
   All of the matjes selection has water, vinegar, salt, sugar, spices etc. I have never seen or bought herring in oil here. I like herring in oil. I guess if one cannot find herring in oil an alternative might be to use herring in sauce (such as those available from IKEA and wash it to remove the sauce). The consistency of that is closer to herring in oil

            1. Yes, I haven’t had my Sunday brunch yet, my brain isn’t working properly! (And only one coffee!).
              I know ABBA very well!!!!! They have the best fish roe spreads in the world! (I think the taste of their basic spread is very similar to IKEA’s basic roe paste).
              I hope that my update saying the herring shouldn’t be very sour is the best solution. Oil is not very important, but the very sour taste will spoil everything.
              I was convinced the herring in oil came from Northern Europe. It’s amazing really. (On the other hand,just in case you want to buy some herrings in oil, there are many Polish shops in Sweden… I’m sure they sell herrings in oil, without it the Polish Christmas doesn’t count ๐Ÿ˜‰ I have found these in Stockholm: Polfood Torsgatan 49, Polska delikatesser, Brรคnnkyrkagatan 88, T-Zinkensdamm , EuroDeli , Hagsรคtra torg 32, Hagsรคtra).

        2. I have just checked the package of my matjes herrings. There is some vinegar on the ingredients’ list. It’s strange though, because the herring is not sour or acid like the one sold in different sauces at IKEA… It gets really complicated, but I think what I will say is that the herring used in my salad shouldn’t be very sour.

    2. I probably shouldn’t say this, but I believe the Polish shop in the Xth arrondissement has a higher quality herring products than IKEA. You might not like the sauces (they are less sweet than the IKEA ones), but the herring is firm, thick and fat, which in my opinion means a better quality fish. Otherwise, I love IKEA and their fish roe paste!

        1. I don’t like licorice, but I love herrings and am not Swiss… I am happy there are so many “not original Swiss” people living here, otherwise who would buy the herrings at Migros? (that it apart from myself and you ๐Ÿ˜‰ ).

  8. While I have an appreciation for herring dishes from my days living in Germany it not necessarily my thing. But can see how this recipe would be a delicious one for everyone else! ๐Ÿ˜‰


    1. Thank you, Sportsglutton. Herring is one of these “acquired taste” food products. Either you love it or you hate it and it’s best to get used to it as a child (my cousin’s 3-year-old son loves herring!). Once you get used to it, it’s addictive. Unfortunately no wine is a good pairing for herring and even a tiny bite destroys the palate for the whole evening ๐Ÿ˜‰

  9. I know what you mean, a lot of the things I cook don’t make it past the visual test, but they taste so good. I haven’t actually tried herrings in a jar before, I will definitely keep this recipe in mind!!

    1. Thank you, Shuhan. You might start with the simple potato, onion, herring and mayonnaise salad I posted some time ago. It’s less demanding, but delicious too!

  10. To this kind of matjes salad I always add an crisp and slightly sour apple in small cubes. It goes very well with potatoe, herring and beet root if you like a light and fruity addition. True, Matjes is delicious and it only accepts beer as company.

    1. Thank you Kiki for the advice. I know many people add sour apple to herrings, but somehow I never tasted it. I must try next time! I am so happy you like herring too! (It’s also great with buckwheat shochu!).

  11. This looks great to me. Katherine dislikes beets, but enjoyed a beet pesto she had the other day. Now to get around the mayo barrier… hmmm…

    1. Thanks, Greg. Katherine is so lucky to hate mayonnaise! I could eat tons of it (if it’s good of course!).

    1. Mr. Three-Cookies, you are incredible! Thank you very much! (I only hope you haven’t been tempted to put 250 herrings in the salad ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

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