Smoked Herring completes the salt-meat quartet that is often used in Caribbean cuisine. The other three are salt fish, salt beef, and salted pig tails.
Smoked herring is used very much in the same way as salt fish. It is sautéed with lots of onions, tomatoes, herbs, and hot peppers, and made into a choka or a paste to be eaten with bread or biscuits.
Smoked herring is sold in two ways in the Caribbean—whole with the skin on and bones intact complete with the head or filleted and boneless. The filleted and boneless is the more expensive of the two. Both types are available in markets and supermarkets.
How to Prepare Smoked Herring
Smoked herring–which is first salted and then smoked to preserve it–must be desalted to remove almost all of the salt, leaving just enough to taste before proceeding with a recipe using it. The desalting is accomplished by a quick boil rather than soaking it overnight as is the case with salt fish.
Whole Smoked Herring
To loosen the fish and remove the bones, the whole fish is added to an open flame and immediately opens up to reveal its center where all the bones are and, in some cases, where you find lovely roe.
Smoked herring is a very oily fish so you have to watch out for the flames that go up in the air when the fish is being roasted. Once the fish is opened, the bones are removed (most of the skin would have burnt off) and the flesh is chopped into small pieces to be cooked.
When using whole smoked herring in any dish, the recipe must be adjusted to accommodate the extra salt from the smoked herring.
Filleted Smoked Herring
The fillets, unlike the whole smoked herring, are boiled to remove some of the salt simply because there are more flesh and more surface area of salt.
Unlike salt fish, it is not necessary to soak smoked herring fillets overnight to loosen up the fish and remove the salt. A quick, rapid boil for 5 to 10 minutes does the trick. Once boiled, the fish is drained and then prepared according to the desired recipe.
Cooking with Smoked Herring
- Caribbean Fried Smoked Herring Recipe: Smoked herring fillets are desalted by boiling for 5 minutes and then chopped and sautéed with onions, tomatoes, and hot peppers and eaten with rice, bread, bakes, roti, or dumplings.