Swedish Pickled Herring

4.79 from 28 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
4.79 from 28 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.

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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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Recipe Rating


    1. Ronald: I just used it for American shad, and IMHO it’s really only good with the smaller buck shad. The hens are too big. Definitely remove the rib bones, too.

  1. I have bought some freshly frozen herrings for this pickling process. Do I have to defrost them overnight? Or can I simply put the frozen herrings directly into the brine and then refrigerate overnight?
    Please advise asap.

    1. Peter: I’ve never done this with frozen ones before. My guy says you need to thaw them first, but I imagine you could put them in the brine frozen and leave it on the counter until they thaw, then put them in the fridge.

  2. My husband thought this made the best pickled herring he’s ever had!
    We will definitely make this again.

  3. Do the herring fillets need to be de-boned (the fine, hair-like bones in the fillets)? Or does the vinegar soften/dissolve them? Thanks

    1. Greetings; I live in Hong Kong and to my knowledge we do not have Herring fish here. My question is can i pickle any other fish that would come out as wonderful as pickled herring.
      Sincely, dale downey

  4. I am originally from Belgium where pickled herring is found everywhere. I moved to the USA years ago and found pickled herring in Florida grocery stores which I bought weekly. In 2015 I moved to Ecuador and have been living 4 years on its’ coast.. Just recently I bought a couple of pounds of fish named Corneta in our beach fishermen stands and thought it would be suitable to use in your recipe. It was a success!!! A few of the expats, familiar with pickled herring ,were impressed. I doubled all ingredients for 2 pounds of fish. I am making another batch tomorrow. So very happy to have encountered your recipe!
    Thank you so much

  5. great recipe. Novice pickler here but this was so easy and SOOOOO tasty that it has whetted my appetite to try more. Just out of interest, is there any difference in Kosher salt and ordinary cooking/table salt?

    1. Roger: Yes. Kosher salt has no additives, and it is coarser than table salt, which almost always has iodide, at least here in the US.

  6. Great recipe! I just made it with trout and it tastes fantastic. Reduced the vinegar a little, increased sugar and added dill. Just person preferences, but base recipe is awesome.

  7. Great recipe I followed the recipe exactly , although it was delicious, I found the vinegar taste a little too strong for my taste. So I decided to exchange 40% of the vinegar for plain water . And everyone that’s tried it liked it . A matter of taste .
    One of my Swedish friends also gave the same recipe, but used apple cider vinegar instead.
    It is amazing

    1. Supper tasty recipe. I just made this with fresh caught Atlantic Shad followed the recipe just as is.The only difference is I brined for 2 days followed by leaving it in vinegar pickling solution for 3 days before eating. Worked out great as Shad is a big fish full of bones the vinegar completely disolved the bones.

  8. For me, it is expensive to buy sardines, and not always in season, so I tried with tilapia, and it is really good too! . I only miss the skin.

  9. I’ve been trying to find a recipe where I can it so I don’t need to take up a bunch of room in the fridge. Do you know any?

  10. This is the same recipe that my dad used. The only difference was that he used fresh herring and the milk glands were removed from the fish and used as part of the brine. So I am sure you had to make sure you had so many female fish in the batch. I can’t get fresh herring in Wyoming. So I haven’t had any homemade in years.

    1. I’m afraid you misunderstood your Dads teachings.
      Milt, not milk.
      Female fish don’t lactate.
      Male fish,,,,,,, fertilize eggs.

      1. I have a similar recipe fm my cousin. He was carrying on the Scandinavian traditions. His uses pickling spice in place of all the others. I made a small batch with some Minnesota crappies, and it came out excellent. Thank you!