The Insider plays Q&A with the super nice Jarek Uściński, executive chef of the Moonsfera Restaurant, about the herring’s spot in the nation’s mouths and minds.
Are you friends with herrings?
JU: Herring is super nice. I like them in oil and spices. We use a lot of herring in Poland. During Christmas and Easter, too. It’s not like the carp which Poles hate and only eat it at Christmas because it’s the thing to do and the rest of the year, they don’t touch it.
Is herring the meat substitute during the period of Lent?
Traditionally, yes. Herring, and other fish. But a few years ago, the church said you could eat anything [during Lent], just don’t over do it.
Are these fellas low in calorie and loaded in Omega 3?
You can say that about every fish. We have the sea and lakes but we don’t eat enough fish. We are still a nation of meat eaters.
Is that because these small fries are deviled as big time frumpy?
They think it’s a cheap fish. High-end restaurant won’t serve it, that’s silly. I am happy to eat good herring. We got some frozen ones from Denmark. They were so good that after defrosting them, we ate them raw, sashimi-style.
Sounds yummy. As a chef, you have a VIP passage to food channels. Where do mere mortal consumers get this frozen Danish delight?
No chance. What we get in Poland year round are herring in brine. Mostly from the Baltic Sea.
Are you supposed to give these fillets hundreds of dunking in water before they are fit for human consumption?
They are crazily salted. You need to put the fillets under slow running water for about half an hour. Then soak them in ordinary milk for another 30 minutes. After that, they are ready for use in recipes.
And how do you dish them out?
Every family has their own finger-licking good, best ever herring recipe. I always have herring in the restaurant’s fridge. One simple method is to add diced onion and apples, and yogurt. Or cream, but cream would be too rich. Then season with salt and pepper, and a bit lemon juice and it’s ready. Another way is to add spices like cloves, oil, but not olive oil, thin slices of onion and apples and a touch of vinegar. Marinate for 30 minutes and it’s super nice. Herring tartare is super nice, too. Cube the fillets, onions, pickled cucumber and pickled mushrooms. Serve with a quail egg yolk. Each dish can be done in 10 to 20 minutes. Cheaply, too. Pod pierzynką, meaning, “under the quilt”, is also popular. It’s made with mayo, grated boiled eggs, grated cheese and chopped chives. You can also put in boiled potatoes.
Are herring and vodka a match made in heaven?
That’s more of a Russian and Scandinavian tradition. In Poland, vodka and sausages are partners. The onion in herring dishes is strong, so that would overwhelm all the flavors of wine. Wine is fine if the herring is pan-fried. We have honey wine (mead), but that’s too sweet. Beer is better with herring. In general, alcohol cleanses the palate.
Any childhood fishy tales?
My father pan-fried herrings and put them into a sweet vinegar marinade. This is also good. Eel works very well for this method. It’s a Polish-Russian way of conserving fish. It looks scary, but taste good.
Any funny herring stories?
Śledź po japonsku (Japanese-style herring). It’s not Japanese, of course. It’s from the communist period. You take a hardboiled egg and wrap it with a herring fillet. Place that on a salad. It was funny.
About Jarek: Catch Jarek in action every Sunday on TVP’s Kawa Czy Herbata morning show from 8am to 10.30am. For up close and personal with Jarek, check out Moonsfera’s culinary workshops. Moonsfera: ul.Wybrzeże Gdyńskie 4 (Centrum Olimpijski), tel. 22 560-3733, www.moonsfera.pl