Celebrate! The Arrival of the New Catch Holland Herring Season

The Dutch love the mild, clean and bright flavor of new catch Holland herring, which has a soft buttery texture. There is an annual celebration in The Hague called “Flag Day” to mark the start of the fishing season in June.

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These special herrings were once hard to come by in the US. According to this 1981 article in The New York Times, they were only sold at the Grand Central Oyster Bar located in New York City. Russ & Daughters imports them directly and has done so for many years. You can buy them in any of their brick-and mortar locations, online or at Shelsky’s Brooklyn.

The new Holland herring is a great alternative to the expensive sushi bars that serve raw, fatty tuna. It has a soft, rich meat without the typical fishy taste of herring. This is a fish that will appeal to both fish lovers and fish haters.

What is New Catch Holland Herring?
Hollandse Nieuwe or Hollandse Maatjesharing are the Dutch names for new catch Holland herring. In Germany, it is sold as Hollandischer Matjes. They are protected by the European Union’s Traditional Specialties Guaranteed Quality Scheme, which regulates the production of the fillets and the type of herring that can be used.

Matjes, or maatje, are derived the word maagdje which means “virgin.” They are used to describe young, immature, small herring that are under three years of age and have not yet fully developed sexual organs. Herring should contain at least 16% fat, but this only happens after they begin eating plankton, in the spring. The herring season runs from May to August.

The way the herring are processed is what makes them different from other herrings. The fish are not gutted but de-headed, or gibbed. This means that the gills and most internal organs have been removed. However, the pancreas remains.

The presence of pancreas is what makes the new catch herring special. The pancreas’ enzymes break down the fish protein immediately, resulting in its buttery texture. The fish will rot if the ripening is not stopped. So, after cleaning, the fish are lightly seasoned to slow down the breakdown of the flesh. The fish are then left to ripen for anywhere between four hours and four days depending on the size of the fish, as well as other factors such a the amount of fat in their meat.

New Catch Holland Herring: How to Eat It
Herring is usually served whole. The fish is still served whole, with the two fillets attached at the tail. Grand Central Oyster Bar serves the herring with the fillets arranged in a V. They also serve a chopped hard-boiled onion, minced chives, and diced egg as garnish.

Max Falkowitz wrote one of my favorites posts from the history of this website in 2013, warning everyone about the imminent end of the new catch Holland herring seasons that year. We’ve uploaded the photos that show the traditional way to eat new catch Holland herring as demonstrated by Robyn.

You first roll the fillets into chopped onion or chopped pickles. You then hold the fish by its tail and tilt it back.

You then lower the fillets in your mouth.

It’s not enough to see a picture on the Internet of happiness.

If you prefer, you can also enjoy it in a fish salad or on a bun like a buttery hotdog. It is one of the rare delicacies which deserves to be enjoyed on its own with the perfect amount of garnish.