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, its achieved cult food 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 and Daughters, celebrated “Hollandse Nieuwe Haring,” heralding the arrival of fresh-caught herring from the Netherlands. Aaron Yidel Schwartz, my uncle and owner of Schwartz’s Appetizing, regularly travels to Holland, Iceland and Norway to source the freshest catch.
While classic herring is pretty much a year-round favorite, he says summer brings in 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 is known as a “ground fish” — a catch-all term meant to describe fish found close to the ocean floor (unlike gefilte fish, which has yet to have its moment in the sun. But that’s another column.) And some conservationists caution that most Atlantic-caught herring is being overfished, destroyed at sea or used for bait.
I spoke with Greg Wells, senior associate with Pew Charitable Trusts, who praises the burgeoning popularity of adding omega-rich fish — 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 suddenly becomes 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? Pew’s “Herring Alliance” was formed to address these concerns.
The spirits industry cautions consumers to think before they drink, but apparently, it’s time to think before we herring as well.
Rachel Weingarten, a native Brooklyn-based writer, tweets as @rachelcw.