Time for another Estonian recipe here on Nami-Nami. My mum celebrated her birthday last weekend, and this - "marineeritud praetud räimed" aka "praetud räimed marinaadis" - was one of the dishes I brought along to her party. You see, both my grandmothers - one 91, the other 92 years old - are staying with my parents these days. The other day my mum was complaining that her mum and her mother-in-law (that's my two grandmothers then) had been asking for fried Baltic herring for a while now and my mum hasn't had a chance to go to the market in search of fresh fish. As we have an excellent fishmonger - Pepe Kala - at our weekly farmer's market in Viimsi, I decided to make my mum's life easier and cooked a batch to take along.
In Estonia this dish is made with Baltic Herrings (Clupea harengus membras, above), a subspecies of the Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus). Baltic herring is smaller and less fatty than the Atlantic herring, and they're also much smaller - up to 18 cm long compared to the Atlantic herring's 40-45 cm. Baltic herring - räim - is considered the "national fish" of Estonia. It's known as silakka in Finnish, strömming in Swedish, hareng de la Baltique in French. True (Nordic) fish aficionados claim the taste of Baltic herring to be superior to the taste of much more well-known sardines. :)
If you cannot get hold of the Baltic herring, you could try sardines instead - apparently the marinade works well with fried sardines, too.
Fried Baltic Herring in Marinade
(Praetud räimed marinaadis)
600 g Baltic herring fillets (or about 1 kg fresh fish)
2 large eggs
4 Tbsp milk
200 ml all-purpose flour or rye flour
oil for frying
1 l water (4 cups)
10 black peppercorns
5 allspice berries
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp 30% vinegar
1.5 Tbsp salt
2 Tbsp caster sugar
Fry the fish. Whisk the eggs with milk, dip fish fillets into the mixture, flesh side down. Press both sides of the fish into the flour, shaking off any extra flour.
Heat a tablespoon or so of oil in a heavy frying pan until hot. Place the breaded fish fillets, flesh sides down, onto the pan and fry for a 2-3 minutes, until dark golden brown. Flip gently over and fry the skin side until golden brown. Transfer the cooked fish fillets into a large bowl.
Make the marinade. Peel and thinly slice the carrots and onion (I used my trusty Benriner mandoline slicer). Place the vegetables, peppercorns and allspice berries, bay leaves, salt and sugar into a medium-sized saucepan. Add the water and bring into a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the carrots are al dente or still have some bite to them. Taste for seasoning - add more salt or sugar, if necessary. The marinade should be quite salty and sugary to have enough potency to flavour the fried fish fillets.
Now add the vinegar* and remove the pan from the heat. Again - you want the marinade to be vinegary to flavour the fish, but not so much that the resulting dish would be too vinegary. Let the marinade cool for a 10-15 minutes, then slowly pour the whole thing (including the carrots, onions and the seasoning) over the fried fish.
Cool completely, then cover and transfer into the fridge for at least 8-10 hours or overnight.
Enjoy on a slice of good dark rye bread or alongside boiled potatoes.
These keep in a fridge for a week or so.
* A note on vinegar - we use the 30% proof vinegar to make this dish in Estonia. Use whatever neutral-tasting vinegar you have, adjusting the amount and aiming for the slightly vinegary marinade.