Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hollandse Nieuwe

It’s the middle of June, and that can only mean one thing (actually that could mean anything, but for a blog about food in the Netherlands, it means something pretty special)…it’s time for Hollandse Nieuwe.  Mmm, Hollandse Nieuwe.

This delicacy of the Atlantic is known as herring to the uninitiated, and more specifically, Hollandse Nieuwe refers to the first catch of the season. The resemblance to the herring of my childhood is negligible, not that I have a really clear picture of it in my mind anymore.  I just remember an unsightly gray mass always present at family gatherings next to the pickles and olives, a pile of pickled fish from a jar I consciously avoided on my way to the chips and seven-layer taco dip. Dutch herring goes through some sort of salt curing process and arrives to the consumer nicely filleted and in a fairly fresh state.  The season only lasts about six weeks, but they freeze a lot of the stock to sell throughout the rest of the year.  I missed the season last year, because I was back in the States for eight weeks.  No way was I going to miss it again this summer.  While most people in the line ordered it as a snack, complete with the requisite chopped onions, I got mine nicely packaged up for dinner that night.  Look at this adorable bag:
If you take a look at the first picture from this newspaper article, you can see the “traditional” way Dutch people eat herring—all in one go—but I have never seen it served that way here in Amsterdam.  The fishmonger usually cuts it up nicely for you so you can enjoy each little piece while sitting on a bench watching the bicycles go by.  That’s what the tourists usually do, anyway.  While some people may not think that pieces of herring with onions sounds good, it is actually pretty amazing.  The bite of the onions offers a nice contrast to the fatty fish.  Man, just writing this is making me want to go order one.  
Apparently it is a good year for the little fish.  The ones I bought were huge!  I bought two of the little suckers for dinner, but we ended up only eating one and saving the other one for our appetizer (yeah, like we usually have appetizers before dinner) the next night.  It’s one of those fresh foods I wish I could somehow bottle up and send to people so they could know just how good it is.  Since that’s not possible, you should all come visit me in the next few weeks before the season ends.


  1. A little horseradish makes the herring all the better! There's a fermented herring dish from Denmark that I've seen video of people gagging at (fun, really) and the Brits kepper theirs - how do they preserve the leftovers, assuming there are any, in Holland?

  2. Oh... and there's Lake Superior herring here, and I know of someone who fishes them commercially, but I've never had them.

  3. Yum! Any food beloved by a country that also loves french fries with mayonnaise is aces in my book!

  4. Steve,
    My father-in-law has a herring potato salad recipe. Horseradish sounds like the perfect addition to the dish.
    They do pickle, smoke, and can herring here, as well. I assume those were some of the traditional methods to keep the fish for months at a time. However, I almost always see it sold as "fresh" here, probably because of the freezing methods they employ. I'll have look around more. No fermented herring dish to my knowledge. I'll leave that to the Danes.

    Lake Superior herring? I had no idea!

    I know. Those french fries with mayo are a big pull for me, too. If you can make it next summer, we'll take you out for all the Dutch delicacies.