This Thursday will find us doing what many a Norman does at this unique time of year, when herring run by the thousands in the English channel – sitting down to a meal of this delicate, tender fish. We’ll have our Thanksgiving on another day, but we’ll celebrate nonetheless, for herring to the Norman is a very special fish indeed.
What makes it special? Its brief, command performance. The season lasts about one month. Then nets swoop up the flashing silver fish into waiting trucks that take them directly to market.
Herring is so important that the town of Lieury hosts a Fête du Hareng – Herring Festival – attended by thousands from around the region. When I arrived in the late afternoon, fishmonger Bruno Richomme had already sold two tons of fish, one kilo at a time.
Where does it all go? Onto the grill, into white wine and herbs, over smoking oak logs, right into the hot skillet. It’s constant companion? The potato.
The grilled version of herring is washed down by plenty of hard cider. Smoked herring – my favorite – is baked for 15 minutes in a hot oven then served with a chilled glass of Muscadet. Marinated herring is perhaps most popular, and a careful cook can keep it until mid-December, serving it cold as a first course, mounded with the onions and carrots that are marinated along with it. As for sautéed herring, a squeeze of lemon juice and down it goes!
Herring is humble, the dishes it inspires, simple. As in so many cases, humble and simple can, and do, mean best.
Happy Thanksgiving, All!