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  • Polish Mama Cooks

Herring (Śledź) with apples and onion- Polish appetizer for any occasion

Śledź is a dish best served cold..., no this is not how the expression goes? Or is it?

Herring is a fish that shows up on Polish tables during different occasions- weddings, Christmas or Easter. It is served in numerous ways, in many regional recipes and usually eaten as a quick appetizer, snack with a shot of vodka, it can also be a star in a main meal.

In my personal opinion it is slightly underestimated in American cuisine, it is also not easy to find in regular shops, I was only able to find it in Polish or Easter European stores. However, in Poland it is very popular, easy to find, inexpensive and fairly easy to prepare. Full of good nutritions - like omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA or vitamin D, is very salty, has a very rich fishy flavor, and has a dense texture.

It can be served raw, fermented, pickled, and even smoked. In my home town Krakow on Stolarska street there is even a tapas bar called "Ambasada Sledzia" in eng. Herring Embassy, where they serve most amazing herrings, you can even just buy them to go. The name probably has something to do with the fact that on the same street there are three other embassies- one of them American.

But how to start, what to choose? What is the difference between herring, matjes, a'la matjes? Even what is the correct spelling of the matjes, matjas, maatjes? Those are the questions that you might be asking yourself while standing in front of the shop's refrigerator trying to pick the right one. I know, I did.

So let me try to answer some of those questions...

Matjes are young herrings which are caught throughout May and June before they start spawning in July. They originated in the Netherlands, it's name in Dutch maagd means maiden, virgin- young fish. They are very expensive and I also found out that they are a Dutch well protected secret.

Matjes/matjes in German or Swedish; maatjesharing or just maatjes in Dutch; matjasy in Polish

In Poland and in United States you can see herrings labeled "à la matjas", which basically means similar and in the style of the original matjes herring. The former are slightly older fish, not as expensive and easier to find. The "à la matjas" herrings are raw, dipped in oil ready to eat (however I still find them very salty).


Ready in 2h

Preparation: 30- 45 min (soak in water 10-30 min, preparing 15 min)

serves 2-4 people (count one filet of the herring per person)


4 à la matjas fillet (count one piece for a person)

1 purple onion (chopped)

1/2 granny smith apple (chopped)

1 small or 1/2 big red sweet apple (chopped)

kosher salt, pepper

1 tbsp of red wine vinegar

1 tbsp of lemon

1 hole allspices

2 tbsp of yogurt

1 scallions


  1. Before starting anything else, soak the fish in milk for at least 10 min. , even though I use à la matjas which are fillets out of the oil they are still too salty.

  2. Finely chopped the onions, apples and scallions.

  3. Take the fillets out of the milk, pat them dry and slice it into about 2 inch slices.

  4. In a big bowl mix together all the ingredients, and a pinch of salt and pepper, vinegar, allspice and the lemon.

  5. Add sour cream, mix everything. Put it in the fridge for at least 1 hour before serving. garnish with scallions and serve cold.


  1. Herrings need to be soaked, in water or milk, to remove some of the salt. The longer you soak the fish the less salty it will be.

  2. Serve it with a delicious piece of bread with some butter.

  3. You can also drink a shot of a cold Polish vodka.


Some more Polish recipes:


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