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Expert Takeover: Viking Pickled Herring, with Kjersti Egerdahl


Written June 07, 2020


Viking Kitchen PIY (Pickle It Yourself) Herring

The Vikings kept their ships well-stocked for summer pillaging with preserved food and drink. To re-capture that raiding feeling, we suggest steering clear of historically accurate but digestively questionable menu items like sour milk and pine-bark bread. Instead, go gourmet with pickled fish! Herring is the classic, but other firm white fish work well: perch, pike, or even halibut.


  • 5 c water, divided
  • 1/4 lb kosher salt
  • 1 lb firm white fish, filleted and cut into 1- to 2-inch chunks
  • 2 c vinegar
  • 1/4 c sugar (substitute honey if your ancestors weren’t traders)
  • 1 tsp mustard seed
  • 1 tsp caraway seed (substitute coriander seed if your ancestors were Danish)
  • 2 tsp juniper berries (substitute 2 tsp black peppercorns plus 3 bay leaves if you think gin is for the English)
  • 2 tsp whole allspice
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced (red, unless you’re Swedish, in which case always use yellow)
  • Optional: 1 lemon, thinly sliced; 1 tsp olive oil if you’re using halibut or another less fatty fish.


  1. Brine the fish - Bring 4 cups water to a boil and dissolve salt. Cool the brine to room temperature and submerge fish fillets in it. Refrigerate fish in brine overnight, or up to 24 hours.
  2. Make the pickling brine - Bring the remaining 1 cup water, sugar, vinegar, and spices to a boil. Simmer 5 minutes, then let cool to room temperature.
  3. Layer the fish - Remove fish from brine and pat dry. Layer in glass jars with sliced onion (and optional lemon slices). If using more than one jar, divide the spices between jars. Pour the cooled pickling brine to cover fish and seal the jars. Refrigerate for 24 hours. Store in refrigerator up to 10 days (or 2-3 days on the high seas).
  4. Just add beer - Serve with a cold, crisp brew on the side, whether it’s store-bought or home-brewed Viking-style with juniper, mugwort, and yarrow. Skål!

For more Viking Age inspiration and history, read The Viking Hondbók by Kjersti Egerdahl, now available from Running Press.

Kjersti Egerdahl has edited music and pop culture books on everything from Darth Vader to Jimi Hendrix to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She is the author of The Viking Hondbók, a fun and fascinating look at Vikings and the Viking Age, and Green Day: A Musical Biography, a career retrospective on the world’s biggest punk band. She lives in Seattle.