Few dishes are as evocative of a place as pickled fish. The word “rollmop” is German in origin, derived from the words rollen (to roll) and mops (the German name for pug dogs and also “blockhead”), but the dish itself is Danish.
Rollmop specifically refers to a pickled herring fillet, often rolled around a savoury filling and held together by toothpicks. The filling is usually slices of onion, pickled gherkin, or green olive with pimento. But I’ve opted here for another Danish tradition – smørrebrød. Smørrebrød, literally “open sandwich”, is a staple in Denmark where it is available in almost every cafe, typically using dark rye bread. This can be a messy business and I opt for quality over quantity in this recipe.
Quality rollmops make themselves known the instant you open the jar. The smell should be briny but not too bracing. Good delicatessens should have herrings imported directly from Scandinavia and I wouldn’t make this without a proper pickled herring. The combined flavours of shallots, dill and capers work beautifully, lending the dish a sourness and an almost umami-like savoury flavour when matched with a little salt and sugar. It’s a flavour sorely missing from most menus.
There is a freshness to this dish that brings out the best in the ingredients. Rollmops couldn’t come from anywhere else in the world and they are perfectly matched to a wintry afternoon indoors.
– ½ loaf of dark rye bread
– 2 tbsp diced shallots
– 1 tbsp tiny capers chopped
– 2 tsp vinegar
– 1½ tbsp chopped dill
– pinch sugar
– pinch salt
– ½ cup crème fraîche
– 1 tbsp grated fresh horseradish or pre-prepared horseradish paste
– 1 x 200g jar of rollmops or pickled herrings
Preheat your oven to 180ºC.
Slice the bread into 1.5-centimetre-thick slices and cut into desired bite-sized shapes.
Brush each piece of bread with a little butter and roast in the oven for five minutes or until crisp.
Meanwhile, mix together the chopped shallots, capers, vinegar, chopped dill and sugar and salt.
Stir the crème fraîche and horseradish together and return to the fridge until ready to serve.
When you wish to serve the herrings, slice into tidy pieces that will fit nicely onto the bread. Top each piece of rye bread with the horseradish cream followed by the sliced pickled herrings. Top each piece of fish with half a teaspoon of the shallot mixture and serve immediately.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 29, 2017 as "Top of the mops". Subscribe here.