Pickled Herring (Soused Herring), Potato and Brined Cucumber Salad

herringsaladpFew things are as refreshing and at the same time filling as chilled pickled herring and potato salad. Well, maybe only the same salad including brined cucumber for an extra sour cooling touch… Last weekend I went on a short grocery shopping trip to Germany and brought back some delicacies I cannot find neither in Switzerland nor in France. Some, as pickled herring in oil or vinegared herring in creamy sauces, do exist here, but they do not hold a candle to the ones found in Germany or Poland. The pickled herring I used in this salad was the plumpest and fattest I have had for ages and all the herring amateurs know how these two characteristics are crucial in good quality herrings.

On an extremely hot, humid, sunny evening, this salad was a superb treat for someone who has been dreaming of good pickled herring for years.  I hope you will forgive my reposting this old recipe. Apart from a slight photo improvement, I thought that maybe such a simple, but luscious dish, promoting cheap, healthy and apparently ecological fish merits a reminder every two years…

The product I have used here is not strong, very sour vinegared herring, but lightly cured (soused) herring, called “matjes” or “maatjes”. It 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.

Herring has been preserved in brine since the Middle Ages, but the salt concentration was so high, the fish had to be desalted by 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 (see TIPS below).

Matjes are often eaten simply with chopped onions and bread or in different salads, usually including potatoes. This salad is probably the oldest and the simplest one I know. I have been preparing it since I was a teenager and whenever I want a simple herring dish, this is the first thing I think of. The reason is simple: potatoes, onions and mayonnaise are simply the winning company for cured herring. Here I have also added brined sour cucumber (see the TIPS below), which makes this dish a bit lighter and even more refreshing thanks to its sour touch. You can also add here hard-boiled eggs if you want more protein. If you want to add some fresh herbs, dill is perfect for both the herring and the potatoes, but chives or green onions are also good.

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. If you are a big herring fan, you might like this Layered Herring Salad (with eggs, beetroot, onions and potatoes). The photo is not inspiring but the dish is exquisite. Accidentally, Charles has recently posted a particularly tempting list of Swedish dishes and a very tempting “deconstructed” herring salad among them.

If you want to see myriads of herring cold and hot dishes ideas, visit either Three-Cookies 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!).

TIPS: As you might have noticed on the photo, I have added some brine pickled cucumbers (also known as “fermented cucumbers” or “sour 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 “cloudy” and there is a whitish sediment on the bottom. Sometimes they are also sold in plastic bags, in the refrigerated section (these are often better). Then you know they are brine-pickled, not vinegared.

Important: do not throw the salty cucumber brine! It’s perfect against hangover.

If your country doesn’t have a pickled herring-eating tradition, look for Polish or Russian grocery shops, where it’s one of the most sought after – hence often available – products. Herrings usually labelled “matjes”, “matjas” or something similar are packed with oil, not vinegar (it’s easy to see even if you don’t understand the ingredients). A small amount of vinegar is always included, but the oily liquid is the sign this is the good herring for this salad.

Do not use red onion here. It’s too delicate and simply doesn’t stand the strength of the herring taste. White, strong onion or shallot are the only possible options.

In my opinion this salad doesn’t need to swim in mayonnaise, so as you can see on the photo above, its small amount it simply adds some creaminess.

Preparation: 30 minutes + min. 2 hours chilling in the fridge

Ingredients (serves 3 as a main dish):

400 g/about 14 oz  cured herrings in oil

1 medium onion

1 kg/about 2 lbs potatoes

(3 medium brine pickled cucumbers)

a couple of tablespoons mayonnaise (add 1 teaspoon mustard if you have bland mayonnaise)

pepper, salt


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

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

Do the same with brined cucumbers, if using.

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.

Serve very cold.

51 Replies to “Pickled Herring (Soused Herring), Potato and Brined Cucumber Salad”

  1. I don’t see myself trying this dish but my dad would have loved it. It looks very tasty especially with the dill on top to add that fresh flavour.

  2. You’ve really hit the nail on the head with your description – complex flavour, mild and meaty… I love it so much. The combination of spices used in it is really good isn’t it? I’ll be making my “matjessill sallad” for Saturday, but perhaps I can save aside a little of the herring to make this. It looks very nice indeed (isn’t potato the perfect combination?!)

    I must ask: “Important: do not throw the salty cucumber brine! It’s perfect against hangover.”… do you mean that you drink the brine? Or use it in some sort of dish or drink? Sounds… ehm… interesting! I can proudly say that I’ve never been hungover in my life though (as you know, I don’t drink much at all) so no need to drink cucumber brine for me 😀

  3. This whole pickled herring thing; I stil have yet to try. I know it’s very common in Polish or Russian cuisine, but it’s not somethign I’m familiar with! I see them in shops here but just never had the urge to try them; heh to be honest they don’t look that appetising; but now I know how to make use of them properly, and to pair them with strong flavours, I think I will give them a try after all. It’s my motto never to discount somethign until I’ve tried it!

    1. Shuhan… You who eats chicken skin, probably chicken feet and fermented shrimp paste shouldn’t be scared of pickled herring! Seriously, I think you should try it one day, but it’s love or hate thing really (though I have never met a Pole who wouldn’t like it… even small children love pickled herring; the only thing is that some people prefer vinegar-pickled herring (maybe easier to start with, if you buy in mustard or cream sauce) and some prefer matjas which is stronger, bolder, though less acid. I love both, but vinegared are perfect eaten alone, while these are ideal for salads.
      You should buy a plastic box of herrings in cream or mustard sauce to start with. You eat them simply with bread (like canned sardines) and they are heavenly… Buy a Polish brand though, not British. If you like acid food, you will love them. (I know you do like fish). If I lived nearby I would organise you a tasting herring dinner 🙂

  4. Late onto the blog: ’tis Friday pm here 🙂 ! OMG, Sissi, I grew up on all three parts of this and love it and adore it and I don’t care if I sound tautological 🙂 ! We have absolutely no problems in buying matjes herring here in Australia [I would not be without it in the fridge: what else to have for breakfast 😉 !] – yes, if you want this for lunch or dinner, you may steam some small potatoes and the lightly ‘pickled’ cucumbers : how can anyone live without them 🙂 🙂 🙂 !! Absolute culinary delight . . . The ‘rosolje’ or ‘rosolnik’ recipe you give [the one with the beetroots: that is party fare all over NE Europe!] could do with some lovely smoked ham! Again: how can anyone live without? My second husband was a Hungarian foodie/author/cook and not so keen on all this – well, I termed it the ‘drunks’ aid’ [everybody did drink too much!] and ‘lo, I could not make enough!! The herring is delightful: why, oh why not try 😀 !

    1. Hi Eha, I’m glad to learn we are both herring lovers. Aren’t they addictive? I also think herring salad is perfect for breakfast! Refreshing, filling, healthy… We do have matjas herring in Switzerland (luckily) but they are somehow slimmer and not as “plump” as these German beauties! I was even surprised to see matjas here because I don’t know anyone who eats them apart from me and my husband.

    2. Hi! I was recently in Berlin and had my first taste of pickled herrings and was hooked. Now that I’m back in Australia, I’d love to have it again. I’m glad to hear it’s easily available. Can you please tell me where you buy yours, and if you buy it raw and prepare it yourself? Or can you get it canned or bottled?

      1. Hi Joanne, I’m glad to meet another pickled herring fan! I live in Switzerland, so I have no idea where you can buy it in Australia… I know that in general it’s sold in Russian/Ukrainian/Polish grocery shops around the world, so check if you have such shops in your area. It’s sold either in jars (pickled and very sour, vinegared one) or in plastic tubs in different creamy sauces (a bit less strong, but also vinegared and strong) or in plastic packages (in oil, only slightly vinegared, and called “matjes”; this is the one I use for this salad and salads in general). Pickled herring is also sold here in IKEA grocery shop (though it’s slightly different from the German herring). I buy pickled herring in a normal Swiss supermarket or in a multi-ethnic shop in the Russian/Polish section. I hope you can find it. (Unfortunately I have no idea how to prepare it at home.) Good luck!

  5. Hi Sissi, firstly thanks for helping me decide what I will have for lunch:) I was undecided, now I know. There is no mayo at home and I can’t be bothered making, so I will use creme fraiche instead – hope it works, am sure it will.
    Thanks for the mention and your kind words. That herring cookbook…what about releasing it at the same time that you release your shiso cookbook:)
    My parents are travelling in Europe at present, they say it is very hot in some places. And summer has only just started. Its sunny here also. Last here I missed the whole summer but I heard there were only 10 days with temp exceeding 25 degrees. This year will be completely different

      1. Oh, yes! Home-made mayonnaise is so easy and so delicious! I’m glad you are not afraid of making it. I agree: no virgin olive oil which becomes bitter!

    1. Hi, Mr. Three-Cookies, it’s so comforting to know you share my passion for herrings. If one day I go to Sweden (I hope I will), I will buy all the herring types I find! Sour cream/crème fraîche will be great here too of course.
      I think that my knowledge of shiso use has nothing to do with your competence in herring cookery! It’s so kind of you to compare us.
      Yes, summer has just started here, though yesterday there was a huge storm and 3 cm diameter hailstones! They looked like candies and luckily I was at home because if I left my plants on the balcony, I would have to forget mizuna, mitsuba and other herbs…
      I hope your parents are having fun. Let me know if they come to Switzerland.

      1. Crème fraîche worked well, it was great. I will have this salad again on Sunday:)
        3 cm hailstones is huge. Few days ago we had hail that was the biggest I ever saw, but less than 1cm. I stuck my hand out of the door to see how it felt, it hurt!
        My parents travelled from Venice to Zurich by train, and spent 2 nights in Zurich. Visited mountains, lake etc, loved it. They didn’t travel to any other part of the country, other than going through the country via train.
        Have a good weekend

        1. Hi, Mr. Three-Cookies. Thank you for the feedback. I’m glad it worked together. I will try your version too. It sounds even more sour and more summery. I have never seen such hailstones in my life… and recently in certain French regions there were 6 cm hailstones! Certain vineyards have been completely destroyed, not to mention ruined cars… Swiss landscapes are beautiful indeed, but I suppose they preferred Venice. Have a lovely weekend too.

  6. Hi Sissi, it’s been a while since I haven’t commented on your blog. I’ve been away in Italy, and now I’m back recuperating. Somehow this happens each time I go overseas (get sick).

    I love pickled herring, and potatoes, of course the fresh dill addition is always a welcome. I happen to love pickled herrings just by themselves even on some nice rye bread. According the American standards this may be weird, but I do love European and different Asian culture foods!

    1. Hi, Elisabeth. I’m glad to see you back and happy to learn you love pickled herring too. Sorry to hear you have been sick. I hope your holidays were wonderful.

  7. There is so much flavor and deliciousness going on this salad Sissi. I’m not sure exactly why, but I have never been a big fan of potato salad yet looking at this collection of ingredients, I just know I would delight in your version. I’m all over cucumber in the summer – so refreshing and hydrating. And there’s only one thing better than regular sliced cucumber and that’s pickled ones! (I’m addicted to acid/sour flavors ;-)). Have a great weekend Sissi – we’re off to the lake. Yay for the first day of summer!! ).

    1. Thank you so much, Kelly. Unfortunately I am addicted to potato salads… Sometimes I don’t need much: good mayonnaise, chopped onions and ground pepper and I cannot stop eating it. Of course this version with herring and brined cucumber is even better. Have a lovely weekend!

  8. Yes it is Matjes season again. Do you feel fresh matjes have a strong flavor? I always buy fresh matjes pickled for 5 days in a very light brine. They are so mild in flavor they can be eaten plain as they are: Just put your head in the neck and let the matjes fillet slide in (laugh). But you are right, usually pickled herrings need some strong company.
    As for mayonnaise I totally agree: sunflower or rape seed oil is it and not olive oil. It tastes very good with salt, egg yolk, a little bit sugar, hot french mustard (Dijon) and fresh lemon juice with a little lemon zestes or made with mild white vinegar but I also like to add tarragon – it just depends on the later use. Half and half sunflower and olive oil is nice for a very spicy and garlicy mayonnaise with smoked chili powder, sweet paprika added. But this is no good with herring…
    We had those thunderstorms too, lucky my mizuna survived but the cherry tree was a little bit roughed up – lots of the cherries are gone. I am now quite pleased with the lower temperatures following after. We had some really hot as hell days before and I am no good with tropical nights, sticky stuffed Sauna trains which are running late and air that tastes as boiled and somehow dead. I had moments where I wished I could spend my upcoming holidays in Island right now.

    1. Kiki, for me matjes has a heavenly smell and taste, but people who don’t know pickled herrings always say that it’s stronger and more difficult to like than vinegared herring. I don’t know why…
      Lemon zest sounds like a wonderful idea with mayonnaise. Tarragon is my favourite addition to home-made mayonnaise actually! It’s very French as a habit apparently.
      My herbs survived only because I have put the boxes inside on time (luckily I was at home!). Today we are having a typical, beautiful Swiss summer: warm, but not hot and a lovely breeze from the lake… I hope it will stay this way for the whole summer.

  9. I’m okey with raw fish tartarre or salt cured fish,
    but when i eat korean style black vinegar cured moji fish (snapper), it’s not suits for my licking…
    but i’m gona try this matjes later on….

  10. The mere thought of some good pickled herring is torturing my stomach, it has been grumbling all the way down while I was reading your post. Oh I want some herring with mayo potato salad!!! mhmm with gurken/cornichont it is just perfect (we get those here but not the herring!). I knew that the juice of the gurkern is a good hangover treatment, we tested it successfully in the past. ^.^ You have good taste Sissi. Folks consider herring, black bread and mayo potato salad to be more of a poorer people’s meal no? Or at least I think so.

    1. I’m sorry Helene to torture you 🙁 I wish you had access to pickled herring. I’m glad to hear you know the brine as a cure! You know, I bought here once Austrian brined cucumbers! They were excellent (the Swiss only pickle them in vinegar). Definitely not a poor people’s diet! It’s a meal for a prince (or princess) 😉

  11. My FIL adored pickled herring…and I’d often bring him some when we went to visit. He would have loved your salad!

    1. Hi, Liz. Pickled herring is a love or hate product, so I imagine how your father-in-law was happy when you brought it.

  12. I’ve tried Pickled Herring many many years ago but didn’t like it. But yours with potato and cucumber salad sounds really great. I think I have to give the Pickled Herring a 2nd chance. 😉 Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you, Amy. I wonder if you have tried pickled herring in vinegar or just pickled brined herring. They are quite different…

  13. Well Darlin – I have to admit that pickled herring is not on my list of foods that I need to try during my lifetime. 🙂 I’ve never enjoyed any type of fish that has been processed then canned or jarred – like sardines or smoked oysters. but I will take your word for it. It certainly looks good and if I thought I would like pickled herring I would love to give it a try. But I’m not even sure if I could find them here. Your comment on the cucumber brine and hangovers was quite interesting. I’ll have to remember that tomorrow. We’re headed out to celebrate Bobby’s birthday tonight. 🙂 Hope you’re having a marvelous weekend!

    1. Hi, MJ. Matjes has got nothing to do with canned sardines (I have never tasted smoked oysters… they don’t sound very appetising though… I love them raw so much!), but if you don’t like any canned fish product, then I don’t think you would like this herring. Canned sardines are one of my favourite snack food and since I learnt they are a kind of wonder food product, I stock on them without guilt 😉 I couldn’t live without them.
      This herring has a very strong fish smell and taste (not to mix up with “fishy”!) but it’s 100 x better than fresh herring, which is a boring fish with lots of bones. I hope you are having a lovely weekend too.

  14. You have instantly transported me to my childhood, thank you! This is surely a treat I don’t often (in fact, rarely) indulge in due to my husband’s repulsion having not grown up with this delicacy. I did indulge last June when I bought a bottle of fat pickled herrings and proceeded to eat the entire jar! We usually served it with sliced white onions and sour cream, my mouth is watering. I have a friend whose German father makes his own pickled herring and I’m really hoping they’ll bring me a jar or ten for my birthday next month. I would eat them sequestered in a room by myself, in utter joy!

    1. Thank you so much, Eva. I am happy we both share a passion for herring. I wonder if you like the vinegared herring or the one preserved in oil? I love both, but the English term “pickled” drives me crazy: I never know what kind of product we talk about. It’s the same with cucumbers: pickled can mean in vinegar or in brine (vizes in Hungarian). In Poland both have different terms and no one mixes them up. I suppose it’s the same in the countries where many people are fond of both pickling methods…

  15. C’est vrai que ça a l’air frais tout en étant complet, avec des saveurs contrastées… ça me plaît beaucoup, mais je ne connais pas ces matjes, que je préfèrerais sans doute aux “rollmops”. J’espère que je pourrai en trouver ! En tous cas si j’y arrive je saurai qu’en faire 😉

    1. Merci, Helena. Les rollmops sont plus “violents” car très acides, mais d’un autre côté les matjes ont plus de caractère…

  16. I’ve tried smoked herring at Scandinavian restaurants, but never pickled herring. And I must say, I’ve never tried (or heard of) potato salad with herring in it! I learn so much from visiting food blogs. 😀 I’m dying to try it now. I’m sure it’s bursting with flavor. Thanks Sissi!

    1. Thank you so much, Gomo. I’m not a fan of smoked herring (too many bones!), but I’m crazy for pickled one. I hope you can taste it too one day.

  17. In my mind, pickled herring = you and Mr. Three Cookies. 🙂 I remember you two were making the dishes around the same time and I’ll never forget this dish. I really love to try this dish. We have similar taste bud and I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy it! 🙂 Not to mention, I love potato and potato salad just like you. 😉

    1. Haha! Thanks a lot, Nami. It’s true that Mr. Three-Cookies is the biggest herring fan and specialist I know (I cannot even compare to him in this field!). I think you would like this salad too.

  18. YUM, I just celebrated Swedish Midsommar and pickled herring was of course present there. It goes amazingly well with dill and potatoes… a perfect summery picnic salad, in my humble opinion 🙂 I love the research and information that goes into your posts. It’s very much appreciated, especially by a fellow food geek!

    1. Thank you so much, Irina. I’m glad you are not bored with what I wrote (actually thanks to information I search for certain posts I learn a lot! here I have learnt that raw cucumbers “steal” vitamin C).

  19. I love pickled fish and we usually eat it with legumes and in particular beans. I am sure the pickled herring gave this potato salad a special twist so much different than the usual ones!

    1. Really? I had no idea pickled fish existed in Greece! I thought it was a speciality of the colder part of Europe… Please please post the recipe one day! I am very curious. (I suppose it’s a cold days’ meal though).

    1. Hi, Jed. I grew up with herrings… loved it since I remember, but I can understand some people are not fond of it.

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