What's in Season: Holland Herring
Scarce and Available for Only a Month
The season's first Holland Herring arrived a little early this year and are available at Russ & Daughters on East Houston Street on the Lower East Side. The season and the supply are unpredictable and they're usually only available for about a month. The fish wizards at Russ say this year's crop is the best they've seen in years so if you're a herring love, get them while you can -- they'll be gone before you know it.
The start of herring season in Holland is a big deal. The Dutch mark the event with a festival called Vlaggetjesdag or "Flag Day," named for the bounty of flags waving on a flotilla of fishing boats that fill a small harbor near The Hague. The event may be a bit touristy, but it still marks the start of herring fishing season and it announces the pending arrival of Hollandse Nieuwe or "new herring."
Dutch fishermen carefully watch the weather and water temperature and wait for this first herring. As the fishing season continues with warmer weather and warmer waters, the herring will change in size, fat content and flavor as well as how they will be cured. But the first-caught are smaller, with a minimum fat content of 16%. These fillets are in short supply, barely cured, slightly pink, and nearly raw, making them a delicacy that is much sought after by herring lovers, including here in the U.S. where the name has been short-handed to Holland Herring.
The traditional way to eat a Holland Herring is with your head tilted back and your mouth fully open, ready to swallow a whole fish, head first. If that's not your preference, you can cut the fillets into pieces and eat on a piece of bread with some chopped raw onions or instead, alongside some steamed baby potatoes.