Monday, 18 February 2013

Oat-crusted pan-fried herrings with chard and beetroot

Herrings rolled in oats and then fried is a traditional Scottish dish although not one you see much of these days. It's a pity, as herrings are cheap, plentiful, tasty and nutritious. And as mackerel is currently off the menu for most people keen to eat oily fish, herring is a good alternative.

In Scotland, herrings eaten this way are traditionally fried in lard or dripping and served with fried potatoes, and maybe a heap of fried onions too. I use butter here and plate up with some fresh veg for a healthier alternative.

What you need: 
2 small or medium herrings
Porridge oats
Swiss chard
2 small cooked beetroot

What to do: 
Get the fishmonger to prepare the herrings - they need to be scaled, gutted, heads off and filleted. At home, rinse the herrings well under the tap then pat dry with kitchen paper. Use a pair of tweezers to remove the pin bones (see tips) and a sharp pair of scissors to snip off any remaining bits of fin.

Spread some porridge oats on a plate or chopping board, season lightly then roll the herrings in them until they are well coated. Wash the chard, chop the stems into 1cm slices then shred the leaves. Boil a kettle, fill a saucepan with the boiling water and steam the chard stems for 5 minutes.

At the same time, heat a knob of butter into two frying pans. Put the herrings in one pan and fry over a medium heat, taking care not to burn the butter. In the other pan, sauté the beetroot slices. Turn over both the herrings and the beetroot slices after 5 minutes and add the chard leaves to the steamer.

Everything should need about 10 minutes apiece and be ready at the same time, but if not turn off the heat under whichever pans you need to while the rest catches up.
Cook's tips:
The main reason a lot of people won't eat herring is the bones - they have a lot (and much as I love kippers I rarely eat them because I spend as much time picking the bones out as I do eating the flesh). However, you can get rid of almost all of them if you spend a few minutes pinboning them before cooking. The pin bones are the bigger ones that often get left behind during filleting, the ones that stick in your throat if you're unlucky enough to eat one. The very fine bones, which are almost hairlike, won't kill you - they can tickle a little in the mouth but they won't stab you.

Don't let the butter get too hot or it will burn, and so will the oats. I tend to have the heat up slightly higher under the beetroot while keeping a very sharp eye on the herrings. The fish is done when the flesh has turned from translucent red to creamy white. If you cook the herrings flat (kipper shaped) they will be done in 5 minutes but I prefer to cook them with all the flesh on the inside so the oats are only on the skin.