Pickled Herring – the Star of the Smörgåsbord Show

Herring, or “sill” plate, from right to left: Lemon pickled Sill, Sill with linginberry and blackpepper, curry sill, vanilla and limeleaf Sill, buckthorn sill, spiced sill.: Photo:Per-Erik Berglund/imagebank.sweden.se

A given element on the Swedish Christmas Smörgåsbord is the pickled herring, called “sill” in Swedish. Traditionally, herring has been marinated with flavors such as pepper, dill, and onion, but during later decades, interesting and more innovative flavorings such as cassis, cajun spices or cilantro. West Sweden, specifically Bohuslän – the most western province of Sweden, has always had a strong connection to herring and herring-fishing. The people of this little province started to make a living of herring already a thousand years ago and particularly between the 1500- and 1800- hundreds, fishing communities started to emerge and flourish.

A typical herring fishing community in Bohuslän province. Photo: Lisa Nestorn

We are sharing two delicious herring recipes – one typical version, seasoned classically with allspice pepper and onion and one more luxurious version with roe, sherry and mayonnaise. Accompaniments for herring should be very simple since the herring itself is the obvious star of the show. Swedes love to eat herring with some dill-boiled potatoes, crisp bread or dark bread. Wash it down with a classical beer or some Swedish aquavit!


Pickled herring and aquavit. Photo: Joel Wåreus/imagebank.sweden.se

Marinated herring with allspice and onion

Created by: Carl Jan Granqvist, Lena Katarina Swanberg, found at: blogs.sweden.se/food


  • 4 presoaked herring filets
  • 150 ml (¾ cup) water
  • 5 tbs distilled white vinegar (12%)
  • 85 g (3 ¼ oz) sugar
  • 1 red onion
  • 10 whole allspice
  • 1 bay leaf


  1. To make this marinated herring dish, mix water, vinegar and sugar, boil for a few minutes in a saucepan and let the marinade cool.
  2. Cut the presoaked filets into pieces 2 cm (¾ in) wide, peel and slice the onion, and crush the allspice.
  3. Alternate pieces of herring with onion inside a jar, insert the bay leaf and pour the marinade on top.
  4. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours, preferably for a week.


Roe marinated herring and fried pickled herring. Photo: Jakob Fridholm/imagebank.sweden.se

Roe marinated herring with crisp bread

Created by: Jesper Johansson, Grythytte akademi, found at: blogs.sweden.se/food



  • 400-500 g herring fillet, skin off.


  • ½dl (¼ cup) distilled vinegar (12%)
  • 4dl (1¾ cups) water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar


  • 3 shallots, finely chopped
  • about 1dl (½ cup) vendace roe
  • 2dl (1 cup) sour cream
  • 4 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2-3 drops Worcester sauce
  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry
  • a squeeze of lemon
  • salt and pepper


  • roe
  • chives, chopped
  • dill sprigs


Day 1, Brine:

  1. Stir together the ingredients for the brine in a bowl.
  2. Mix in the herring and set the bowl cold for 12 hours until the fillets are white throughout, but not hard.

Day 2, Marinade:

  1. Mix the shallots with the rest of the marinade ingredients.
  2. Let herring drain in a colander, pat it dry with some paper and put it in the marinade.
  3. Turn a few times so the marinade covers everything.
  4. The herring is ready after 3-4 hours in the fridge, but preferably wait one day.


  1. Serve with crisp bread and garnish with roe, chopped chives and dill sprigs.

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If you want to experience a real, “herringy” Christmas in West Sweden, you should take a look at this Christmas package at the floating hotel Salt and Sill by Klädesholmen island.

By Emilia Björk



  1. Secret_Ingredient   •  

    4 presoaked herring filets??? What does this mean? The fish come from the water and are wet. So, does this mean “held in a salt brine?” Or have you dried herring that must be re-constituted?

  2. mariaw   •     Author

    Dear Secret ingredient – yes, the herring being presoaked means that you buy it lying in a salt brine. After that you can marinate it according to the recipe. /Admin

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