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It’s Northwest Herring Week! Herring populations are very stable in most areas of Puget Sound, and salmon anglers will use them as baitfish, but what many don’t realize is the bait is just as tasty as the prized salmon catch.

In this week’s seafood recipe, executive chef and general manager Megan Coombes of Altstadt in Seattle’s Pioneer Square recommends a tasty German herring salad “salat.”

Coombes grew up in the Pacific Northwest and found her passion for food and cooking through from Julia Child, as well as her mother and grandmother.

She went to study in Germany, first as a high school exchange student, and later in college when she studied international relations. From there she headed to New York’s French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center), and interned at Wallse, a Michelin-starred Austrian restaurant in New York. She moved back to the Northwest in 2013 and has now found a home at Altstadt where she blends her background and affinity for German cuisine, culture, and language with her culinary skills.

Catching herring in Puget Sound

Herring are known as a forage fish, and salmon anglers will often carry a dip-net or colorful beaded jigs in their boat to catch them when huge schools are seen flipping and jumping on the surface of the water.

Herring can be found near-shore along intertidal and shallow subtidal areas as well as in deeper marine waterways. Spawning occurs during winter and spring, and in summer months the fish can be found in huge schools.

Most anglers will watch their depth-finders for bait balls while traveling to fishing grounds, and then jig for them once schools are located and when huge schools are found near the surface a dip-net can be used. When jigging try a “Sabibki” jig which consists of six beaded hooks with a small one- to two-ounce attached to the bottom swivel. Slowly drop the presentation until you can feel the subtle vibration, which is the key that you’ve hooked a herring. Slowly raise and drop the jig once you locate the schools and then reel up when you feel them rod tip shaking.


(Note: There are three versions to this recipe including an apple pickle, wine pickle and quark marinated herring. All three are incorporated on the dish. Combined, they make four plates.)

Ingredients for brining

Six whole herring, gutted and filleted (12 fillets total)

1/2 cup salt

1/4 cup coriander, mignonette

2 cups water

2 cups ice

Directions for brining

Bring salt, coriander and water to a boil. Remove from heat and add ice.

The ice should just melt, leaving a room temperature brine. Add herring fillets and refrigerate for two days and up to one week. Remove the herring and save the liquid.

The brine forms the flesh and adds flavor. When the herring are pickled (using the recipes below), the acid  dissolves the pin bones, making the entire fish edible.


Apple pickled herring


Four brined herring fillets

1 cup apple cider vinegar

1 cup water

1 cup granulated sugar

10 peppercorns

1 Granny Smith apple


Combine vinegar, water, sugar and peppercorns in a pot. Bring to a boil, allowing the sugar to dissolve. Remove from heat and cool.

Slice the apple very thin so it can be rolled without breaking.

Shingle the apple on each herring fillet and roll up. Secure with a toothpick.

Submerge in the cooled pickling liquid with any remaining apple slices and refrigerate for two days and up to one week.


Wine pickled herring


4 brined herring fillets

1 cup white wine (Riesling preferred)

1 cup water

1/2 cup granulated sugar

10 coriander seeds

1 red onion


Combine wine, water, sugar and coriander in pot. Bring to a boil, allowing the sugar to dissolve. Remove from heat and cool.

Slice the onion into very thin half rings so they can be rolled without breaking. Arrange on the herring fillet and roll up. Secure with a toothpick.

Submerge in the cooled pickling liquid with any remaining onion and refrigerate for two days and up to one week.

Quark marinated herring


4 brined herring fillets, cut into cubes

1 cup quark (can substitute sour cream; quark can be purchased at PCC stores or markets like Liebechen Delicatessen in Bellevue)

1/4 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons white distilled vinegar

1 tablespoon salt

1 cup dill, finely chopped

1 cup parsley, finely chopped


Mix all the ingredients together. Refrigerate for two days and up to one week


To serve

Remove toothpicks and herring will retain their rolled shape on the plate. Serve with apple and onion pickles from recipe, roasted beets, cucumber pickles, pickled strawberries, hard-boiled egg, pumpernickel and bauernbrot.


Coming up

This season, esteemed local chefs will share recipes and advice on how to cook a wide variety of local seafood weekly through October.

This year’s lineup of chefs include Tom Douglas, owner of Lola, Palace Kitchen, Dahlia Lounge, among others; executive chef Jason Brzozowy of Maria Hines’ Tilth; chef Shota Nakajima, owner of Naka; executive chef Wesley Hood of AQUA by El Gaucho along with other chefs from El Gaucho, El Gaucho in Bellevue and The Inn at El Gaucho; executive chef Pat Donahue at Anthony’s Restaurants; Jason Wilson, executive chef and owner of Miller’s Guild and Coffee Flour; Taylor Hoang, from Pho Cyclo; Chefs Jun Takai and Yasuhiro “Yasu” Kusano at Shiro’s Sushi in Seattle’s Belltown; chef Maximillian Petty owner of Eden Hill on Queen Anne; and chef Taichi Kitamura, owner of Sushi Kappo Tamura.

Recipes will be posted every Wednesday and/or Thursday through Nov. 2. Also, if you have a recipe you’d like to reel-in my way, please let me know and I will post them, and will even test it out with my family and friends.