Life Life

16/03/2019 - 07:35

Herring salad – a delicious dish this season

On my quick stroll through the market, I saw that herrings are in season and immediately remembered my father’s herring salad. The rich taste of fish, the cool taste of vegetables, and the fatty taste of peanuts all wrapped up in a thin piece of rice paper create an unforgettable taste ...

Herring salad, not difficult to make and easy to eat

When I was young, whenever I heard the motorboat approaching the shore, my siblings and I would run to the sea to help remove the fish. In season, herrings often filled the nets. Once the boats had come to shore, the fishermen would have to mobilize a "platoon" of little ones like us to remove fish from the net.

The fresh sparkling fish fall down on the sand, covering the beach. Fresh herring is delicious in any dish and is easy to prepare, especially herring salad. I remember each time when the fishermen caught a large batch of fish, my father would save some to make a fish salad. 

Herring selected for salads is usually the flat herring (there is also the thick-fleshed herring), with lots of firm flesh, small bones, and must be fresh. It is not very often that I make a fish salad because I can't slice the fish as well as my father. The fish slices have to be thin to be eye-catching, but not too thin so that they break apart. However, I have memorized the recipe for making a fish salad.

Fish must be washed and the scales must be scraped off. Next, remove intestines, heads, fins, and tails and only keep the fillets. Then, cut them into thin slices, as thin as possible. Afterward, soak the fish slices in some freshly squeezed lime juice for 10 minutes to let the fish “cook” as well as deodorizing the fishy smell. 

Usually, 1kg of fish will require 2 limes. After the fish is “cooked”, mix with salt, pepper, MSG, chili and last but definitely not least, some roasted and crushed peanuts. Top with some thinly sliced onions and coriander to heighten the taste.

As the specialty dish of us sea villagers, almost every household always has readily available ingredients to make a fish salad. Often, fish are wrapped with thin rice paper and some fresh vegetables and then dipped in ruoc fish sauce. This is a standard delicious dish in the sea village.

The herring salad was a familiar drinking dish of my father and uncles after each trip back from the sea. Sometimes when my dad and his friends drank together, us little ones would sit nearby, sneaking bites of the fish salad. 

When the flexible, chewy piece of rice paper has just melted in the mouth, you can taste the fresh and sweet, soft fish pieces that have kept their natural flavor, along with the aroma and the richness of roasted peanuts. As you chew, you can taste the different flavors blending together with the taste of pure ruoc fish sauce. In other places, herring salad is usually dipped in sweet and sour fish sauce or chili garlic fish sauce, but in my village, the pure ruoc fish sauce remains our only choice.

The herring salad is not difficult to make. It requires simple ingredients and is an idyllic, bold country dish but extremely attractive. A fish salad, at first thought, will be fishy, but it is completely opposite of that. Every season brings a unique specialty. Our sea village does not lack delicious but strange dishes from all kinds of fish. And the herring salad is a delicious dish that is hard to resist this season.

Story and photo: Tran Thanh