Swedish Pickled Herring

4.80 from 29 votes
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Finished pickled herring recipe. in jars
Photo by Elise Bauer

Herring spoils so fast it is almost always eaten salted, pickled or smoked. I’ve eaten (and made) herring in all these forms, but there is something special that makes pickled herring so popular, especially in Northern Europe.

I think it’s because the acidic twang of the vinegar and lemon counteract the rich fattiness of the herring fillets — these fish are among the foods highest in healthy omega-3 fatty acids. The addition of spices, sugar and onion add a personal touch.

This particular recipe is for Swedish glasmastarsill, or glassblower’s herring. Why it is called that I have no idea. Best I can tell it is because this pickle is always put up in glass jars, with the silvery skin of the herring facing outward. Let’s face it, folks: For a pickled little bony fish, this is as pretty as it gets.

Most pickled herring recipes start with pre-salted herring — the kind that come in cans. If you use these, skip the salt in the initial brine and soak the fish in fresh water overnight. They’ll still be plenty salty.

Having some salt in the fish is important: I once made this recipe with fresh herring that I failed to brine, and they turned to mush within 2 weeks. A disaster. You need the salt to extract extra moisture from the fish and keep them firm.

I like these just as a snack, with pumpernickel or rye bread, potatoes of any kind, hard-boiled eggs — or just on a cracker.

If you are so inclined, here is a good primer on food safety when pickling fish, from the University of Minnesota.

pickled herring recipe
4.80 from 29 votes

Swedish Pickled Herring

A classic recipe for Swedish pickled herring called glasmastarsill, or glassblower's herring. Herring, sardines, smelt or whitefish can all be pickled this way
Course: Appetizer, Snack
Cuisine: Scandinavian
Servings: 12
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes


  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 5 cups water, divided
  • 1 pound herring fillets
  • 2 cups distilled or white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seed
  • 2 teaspoons whole allspice
  • 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium red onion thinly sliced


  • Heat 4 cups of water enough to dissolve salt. Let this brine cool to room temperature. When it does, submerge the herring fillets in the brine and refrigerate overnight, or up to 24 hours. Meanwhile, bring the sugar, vinegar, the remaining cup of water and all the spices to a boil. Simmer 5 minutes, then turn off the heat and let this steep until cool.
  • When the herring have brined, layer them in a glass jar with the sliced lemon and red onion. Divide the spices between your containers if you are using more than one. Pour over the cooled pickling liquid and seal the jars. Wait at least a day before eating. Store in the fridge for up to 1 month.


Calories: 95kcal | Carbohydrates: 7g | Protein: 7g | Fat: 4g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 23mg | Sodium: 42mg | Potassium: 168mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 40IU | Vitamin C: 6mg | Calcium: 40mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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  1. Want to can herring with a pressure cooker. But cant find a recipe. Instructions with the pressure cooker say not to add liquid any suggestions or ideas?

  2. I have never seen fresh herring for sale in Vancouver except once a year there is a charity sale where you can pick up a bag from the Steveston docks ($20 for $20 lbs). Follow “Fishermen Helping Kids with Cancer” on Instagram or Facebook for updates. This year’s sale was yesterday – thanks for the recipe.

  3. My dad has been blathering on lately about how delicious pickled herring is so I thought I might try it with canned herring and gift it to him for Christmas. But he specifies that it can’t be sweet. “I love pickled herring but that one time was no good because it was sweet.” I know nothing about pickled herring so forgive me in advance… This has sugar in it.. so is it “sweet”? And if so, do you have recommendations for decreasing sugar amount? Thanks much.

    1. Start with the vinegar/water mix. Get your Dad to taste it and keep adding sugar until he’s happy. After that you can add your other flavourings and use with the herring.

  4. Hello,
    Thanks for posting this as I eat a lot of shop-bought pickled herring but would like to make my own. Can you tell me, should I rinse the herring fillets in cold water after they have soaked in the brine? Or should I lift them out of the brine and put them straight into my jar?
    Many thanks,

  5. I have used this recipe so many times with Pacific herring and it always comes out great. I gut (don’t fillet) and freeze my herring in seawater after catching them, and they can be thawed out later and then pickled. I have trouble finding whole allspice where I live, but I just use the ground stuff (just use less of it). This makes the finished product look a little muddier from the outside of the jar, but it tastes amazing. Larger herring take about a week in my opinion before I recommend eating them (gutted herring take longer for the pickling process to get inside the meat compared to fillets). I’d also push back the date for how long they last in the refrigerator. They seem to easily last about 3 months, although I think they are the tastiest somewhere between 1-3 weeks after pickling. Definitely recommend this recipe.

  6. Never tried pickled Herring but I would love to. Can I buy Herring from a fish market or is it ok to buy in a grocery store. No Herring here in Alabama, that I know of.

    1. Falana: I don’t know that you could find fresh herring in Alabama. But yes, if you do, you could use that.

    1. Michael: I never can this, per se. I just keep it in the fridge. And no, it’s not cooked. It’s salted, then pickled.

  7. glass masters herring is called that because it looks so nice in a tall relatively narrow jar, the kind of jar a glass master might create

  8. Herring flooding Crescent City harbor right now…beautiful fish , limit is 2 – 5 gal buckets a day about 70 lbs! 3/2/2023

  9. Can you can this recipe so you can keep it out of the fridge? Would you use a waterbath canning process since it is so acidic?

      1. Had a Swedish uncle and I was young I recall helping him clean and brine fresh herring. He jarred it and was kept in his pantry – no fridge. I have no idea what his recipe was, but very similar to your recipe. It was delicious and we ate it through the year. And thanks for the recipe, looking forward to trying.

  10. I thought that there was a nationwide closure on herring!
    The mid-Atlantic area have not been allowed to keep herring for years.

      1. Hi Hank. Pacific herring? Really? I’m a Bay Area native and haven’t seen any herring around here in DECADES. I even called all around to seafood markets and purveyors a while back, and NO one had ’em. Where are you getting yours? Do tell!

    1. Tuffy: The sugar is there to offset the harshness of a pure salt brine. So in a way it is there for flavor, but sugar also extracts moisture from meat and fish. No need to add more salt, though.

  11. I have some pacific smelt caught in San Juan islands. How do you think this will work as a substitute for the herring?

  12. After you soak the herring filets in the brine solution,do you soak them again in plain water? When I’ve looked at other recipes for pickled herring using commercially salted herring filets, they say to soak the salted filets in plain water for 12-24 hours changing the water twice before pickling them. Do you need to do that after brining your own fresh-caught herring?

  13. I grew up in a Scandinavian community in Washington State and smelled a lot of pickled fish, This brings back memories, Including lutefisk. The smell of THAT will chase the dogs off. ?

  14. I live in the PNW where herring is abundant. I can catch quite a haul in little time. Can you describe the process from catching to brine? Do you scale them? Bone them? Some recipes have you kind of cook them…but your method is completely raw, right?

    1. Mike: Sure. I catch and scale, then gut and remove the fillets, which will have little bones in them. The vinegar will take care of this in time. I do rinse well in salty water in the cleaning process, before I start this recipe.

      1. I’ve used this recipe for a few yeR now, works really well.
        You can salt whole herring and fillet them before soaking. I often buy 4-5kg chuck them in a bucket with a lid with plenty of course sea salt. Pour off the liquid after 24-36hrs and add a little more salt. They’ll keep in the fridge for about 6 months no problem.

  15. Help. I’ve fallen in love with the pickled herring in Scandinavia. But I can’t get fresh herring in my backwater town…except possibly on line. The only stuff in local stores comes in a jar and is usually mushy.
    Do you have a source?
    Can I buy one already brined? If so, what do you recommend, and where can I get it?

    1. Sharyn: Alas, no. That is the hardest thing about this recipe — finding nice, fresh herring. Online (and expensive) is pretty much your only option. But if you are near the Great Lakes, smelt is a great alternative.