Back in September, I thought I was all that because I filleted fourteen bluefish. By the fourteenth, I was getting pretty good at it, so I was feeling confident as I broke out the fillet knife yesterday to tackle the herring I was planning to pickle.
There were about twenty of them (and another twenty in reserve for my second attempt), and they were small – about seven inches, headless. I’m here to tell you that a seven-inch herring cannot be filleted. I don’t care if you’re sixth-generation Swedish, born on a herring trawler, dextrous as a circus performer. Seven-inch herring cannot be filleted.
Oh, sure, you can get the spine out, but there are gazillions of tiny bones that simply will not stay attached to the spine as you remove it, and remain firmly lodged in the flesh. The flesh, meanwhile, will not detach from the spine in one piece. If you’re lucky, you get two strips per side. More likely, you get a couple of chunks and a few tatters.
Two hours after I took the fish out of the refrigerator, I had a bowl of shredded, bony herring and bubonic carpal tunnel.
Given the choice, I naturally prefer my pickled herring boneless. But if I were to throw up my hands and head for the compost because there were some bones in my fish I would betray both my waste-not-want-not ethos and my Norwegian heritage.
I went ahead, using Linda Ziedrich’s Joy of Pickling as a starting point, and adapting that recipe to suit my tastes. If it’s good, I’ll post it so any of you who have a bucket full of salted herring in your basement can follow in my footsteps. I should know tomorrow.