Curing & Pickling
Curing and pickling are ancient ways of preserving food. Pickling usually involves submerging food in vinegar, often with the addition of salt, sugar and various herbs and spices, whereas curing refers to treating a food with dry salt, often with other flavourings added.
Both processes create an environment in which bacteria find it hard to grow, either because it’s too salty or too acidic. Before modern technology introduced cold storage, canning, and easy transport, seasonal vegetables were often pickled to be enjoyed year round and meat and seafood were treated to extend their shelf-life. These days seafood is pickled and cured for variety and flavour rather than preservation, so you shouldn’t keep it for longer than usual, as the pickling and curing mixtures used are rarely strong enough to preserve.
This style of preservation was, and still is, popular in Northern Europe, especially Scandinavia, and some of the best known examples hale from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, The Netherlands and Germany and feature traditional ingredients such as dill, mustard and oily fish from the cold northern waters. These fish are particularly popular on the famous Scandinavian smorgasbord, a buffet of cold dishes eaten with bread and butter.
Such classic preparations include:
- Gravlax (see recipe at right).
- Soused Herrings, raw or fried Herrings pickled in vinegar, usually flavoured with spices, often with finely sliced carrots, onion and leeks added.
- Mustard Herrings, pickled without spices or vegetables then stirred through a mustard sauce.
- Matjes Herring, young Herring that haven’t yet spawned (‘matjes’ means ‘virgin’) cured in salt, sugar and saltpetre.
- Bismarck Herrings, fillets pickled in vinegar with onion rings and spices.
- Rollmops, butterflied Herring rolled around pickled cucumber and onion and stored in seasoned vinegar or combined wine and vinegar.
Other popular cured and pickled seafoods include:
- Pickled Ray in Belgium
- Pickled Octopus in Greece
- Pickled white Anchovies (boquerones) and salt-cured brown Anchovies in Spain.
- Salted Herring in Poland
- Salted Ling in Ireland
- Salted Cod, baccalà, throughout Europe
Tips for pickling & curing:
- Seafood must be as fresh as possible.
- Aim for a balance between sweet, sour and salty flavours in the final product.
- A good basic pickling mix is the 1-2-3 mix of 1 part white vinegar, 2 parts sugar and 3 parts water, flavoured with allspice, peppercorns and bay leaves.
- Choose firm-textured, oily, strongly flavoured fish for pickling as their flesh holds together well in the pickling solution, and their taste isn’t overpowered. These include:
- Atlantic Salmon