But what's not to love? Herring, especially in its pickled state, is firm-fleshed, as meaty as raw tuna, as oily (and rich in omega-whatever) as those other fish Dr. Perricone keeps harping on us to eat to keep our wrinkles at bay. Pickled herring--herring soaked in brine and annotated with various spices--is also one of those odd cross-cultural moments, where Jewish deli food meets traditional Scandinavian; in a book of Swedish recipes, originally published in 1955 by the American Daughters of Sweden in Chicago, I found five recipes for herring salad (sillsallad), some with the addition of meat, some with beets, some with potatoes.
If you are obsessed or just curious about herring, IKEA is a dandy place to try it out. The smorgasbord (50 cents per pound) contains (by my count) at least five delicious herring permutations, and there may have been, in retrospect, herring in the bright pink beet salad I didn't try. I ate herring in mustard sauce, herring with tomatoes, herring in cream sauce (probably sour cream), herring with dill, and herring with traditional spices (my least favorite--a bit too sweet and spicy, like gluwein). The smorgasbord also featured smoked salmon--not really smoked, but cured, gravlax-style, and very tender and good if you avoid the end pieces, which were kind of hard. And then there are the Swedish meatballs, about which poetry could be written (15 meatballs with lingonberry sauce for $4.95), and if you ask they will give you a sweet cucumber salad instead of boiled potatoes.
I also took home a tube of smoked herring pâté ($3.95). But although I love herring, I am just not ready for fish in a tube. So far we have spent a pleasant hour, the tube and I, staring at each other, but I have not been brave enough to broach the thick Scandinavian seal.
IKEA 600 SW 43rd St, Renton, 425-656-2980. Mon-Fri 10 am-9:30 pm, Sat 10 am-9 pm, Sun 10 am-7 pm.