The etiquette rules on how to serve and eat herring. Tips to be the ideal host or the perfect guest and avoid any embarrassment.

What herring etiquette is

Herring etiquette is the set of rules to properly serve and eat herring. Such rules help avoid behaviors that can disrespect your hosts or guests, or make you look unpolite.

If you are hosting, follow the etiquette to serve herring to your guests appropriately.

As a guest, respect the etiquette rules to properly eat herring at the dining table and avoid offending your hosts or embarrassing yourself.

how to serve and eat herring

What you should know about herring

Herring is a type of small, oily fish that belong to the Clupeidae family. They are found in the North Atlantic and North Pacific oceans, and they are a popular food fish.

Herring are small fish that are typically around 20-25 cm in length. They have a silver-gray color on their backs and sides, with a white belly. The skin is covered in scales and can be somewhat oily to the touch. The flesh is firm and flaky with a distinctive, slightly salty flavor.

Etiquette rules to serve and eat herring

1) How to store herring

The ideal temperature to store fresh herring is between 32-38°F (0-3°C).

You can store canned herring in the pantry, in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Canned herring can last for up to 1 year in the pantry.

Store fresh herring in the fridge. Wrap it in paper or place it in an airtight container and consume it within 2-3 days. You can also store herring in the freezer. It will last for up to 6 months.

Store sliced or cooked herring in an airtight container in the fridge and consume it within 2-3 days.

2) How to clean herring

To clean herring, rinse the fish under cold running water and pat dry with a paper towel. Remove the head, tail, and guts if desired. There are no significant risks associated with cleaning herring, and a sharp knife or kitchen shears can be used to remove the head and tail.

You can tell when herring has turned bad if it smells sour or fishy, the flesh is soft and discolored, or if the skin appears slimy.

3) How to prepare & cook herring

Herring can be eaten raw or cooked. To prepare herring for cooking, it can be baked, grilled, fried, or smoked. Common utensils or appliances used to prepare and cook herring include baking sheets, frying pans, grills, and ovens. The most popular ways to cook herring include frying and smoking.

The most popular dishes with herring include pickled herring, smoked herring, and fried herring.

Herring can be used in salads and sandwiches, and can also be prepared in unique ways such as pickling or smoking. Herring is not appropriate for vegan or paleo diets but can be consumed on a keto diet in moderation.

4) How to serve & present herring

Herring can be served on any occasion, including formal and informal meals, breakfast, brunch, or snacks. You can serve it as a side dish, main course, or appetizer.

Herring can be served on a plate or in a bowl and can be presented with a fork and knife or eaten with your fingers. The ideal serving temperature of herring is around 40-45°F (4-7°C).

You can accompany herring with a variety of seasonings and accompaniments, including dill, lemon, horseradish, and mustard. You can also serve herrings with bread, potatoes, or sour cream.

5) Food and wine to pair herring with

The best food pairings with herring include flavors like lemon, horseradish, and mustard, and vegetables like beets, potatoes, and onions. It is best to avoid fruit pairings.

Herring can go well with cheese and dairy, including cream cheese and sour cream. The best cheese and dairy pairings for herring are mild and tangy. Avoid strongly flavored cheeses.

Herring pairs well with other fish, including salmon and mackerel. It does not pair well with meat.

Herring pairs well with white wine, particularly light and crisp varieties like Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio. Red wine can also pair with herring, but it is important to choose a light and fruity red wine like Beaujolais or Pinot Noir to complement the fish without overpowering it. Rosé wine, sparkling wine, and beer can also be good choices. Spirits and strong-flavored beverages like whiskey or brandy may not be the best match for herring.

6) How to eat herring

The most polite way to eat herring is to use utensils such as a fork and knife. It is not impolite to eat herring with your fingers, but it is appropriate for more casual settings. When eating a whole herring, discard any bones or inedible parts, such as the head and tail.

Herring etiquette: the worst mistakes

The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors. 

A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. Read more about the Rude Index and its methodology here.  

Avoid the most common herring etiquette mistakes:

  • 8/10. Not properly cleaning herrings before serving.
  • 6/10. Serving herring too cold or too warm.
  • 6/10. Over-seasoning herring with strong spices or herbs that may overpower its flavor.

Additional information for properly serving herring

How many calories per serving?

Counting calories is important to stay healthy and correctly plan a menu.

The number of calories in herring can vary depending on the size of the serving and how it is prepared. On average, a single serving of herring contains around 250-300 calories. A single herring typically contains around 100-150 calories.

How to buy the best herring

A crucial factor in herring etiquette is serving your guests the best product possible.

Season and availability 

Herring is available all year round, but the best season to buy it is generally from late spring to early fall when it is at its freshest and most plentiful.

Choose the best

Herring is available in a variety of forms in commerce, including fresh, canned, smoked, and pickled. It is also available in various preparations, such as fillets, whole fish, or sliced.

Some of the most popular varieties of herring in commerce include Atlantic herring, Pacific herring, and European herring. The most prized varieties are typically those that are sustainably sourced and of the highest quality, regardless of their specific type.

When buying herring, look for fish that have bright, clear eyes, firm flesh, and a fresh, oceanic smell. Avoid any fish that has a strong, fishy odor or that appears discolored or mushy.

Alternatives to herring

Some common alternatives to herring include other oily fish like mackerel, sardines, or anchovies, as well as white fish like cod or tilapia.