Weingarten: All of a sudden, everyone's hot for herring
Waiting for a table at a pricey sushi joint is so last century. These days the cool kids are noshing on . . . wait for it . . . herring.
The ubiquitous bottom-feeder was once the exclusive delicacy of Eastern European grandparents and Scandinavian friends. These days, it has achieved cult status.
The Lower East Side was once better known for pushcarts and knishes. These days it reigns supreme for trendy restaurants and bars. Why shouldn't the much maligned Lower East Side classic, herring, join the ranks of the newly hip?
Last month, select eateries, including Michelin-star rated Aquavit and Lower East Side staple Russ & Daughters, celebrated "Hollandse Nieuwe Haring," a summer event heralding the arrival of fresh herring from the Netherlands.
Aaron Yidel Schwartz, my uncle and owner of Schwartz's Appetizing stores, regularly travels to Holland, Iceland and Norway to find herring vendors. While classic herring is pretty much a year-round favorite, he says summer brings requests from the Hamptons for wasabi-coated, honey-mustard-dipped or honey-dipped herring. It would seem that there's a hierarchy of culinary favorites, even when it comes to the humble herring.
Herring, a "ground fish" found close to the ocean floor, is suddenly high in popularity. (Unlike gefilte fish, which has yet to have its moment in the sun.) And some conservationists caution that most Atlantic herring is being overfished, destroyed at sea by boats looking for other varieties, or used for bait.
I spoke with Greg Wells, senior associate with Pew Charitable Trusts, which has set up the Herring Alliance watchdog group to address those concerns.
He praises the popularity of adding fish rich in omega-3 oil -- including herring, cod, haddock and flounder -- to our diets. But he cautions about the urgency of maintaining and ensuring sustainable catch limits. After all, if it's all the rage to eat herring -- which is a common food supply for larger fish, including tuna, sharks and dolphins -- what are the bigger fish eating?
The spirits industry cautions consumers to think before they drink, but apparently, it's time to think before we eat herring as well.
Rachel Weingarten, a native Brooklyn-based writer, tweets as @rachelcw.