Damn. I was really hoping that I would be able to transform pickled herring into something delicious. If I'm honest, I was fairly confident in the plan I had come up with for using the herring, sweet pickles, and bran cereal for this week's home "Chopped" challenge. Unfortunately the plan was no match for pickled herring. Who knew that its taste was so strong? So persistent? So... pickley? Part of the problem was probably that I didn't even taste the herring until I was getting ready to cook it tonight. Remember how I said I wouldn't even be able to come up with a plan for it until I tasted it, since I had no idea what the taste and texture would be like? Well, I threw that out the window and came up with a plan, sans tasting, to make a Bran-Cereal Crusted Pickled Herring Po' Boy with Sweet Pickle and Onion Puree. I'm going to spare you the recipe, because it's not worth typing out, but here's what happened:
I was so confident in my plan. I thought for sure if I rinsed off the herring to get some of the pickled flavor off, and then coated it with crushed brand cereal seasoned with some strong flavors (I used chili powder and a bit of cayenne pepper), and then pan fried it to give it a nice crispy crust it would be fabulous on a nice baguette with a caramelized sweet pickle and onion puree sauce. Unfortunately, this plan was based on my expectation that the herring would be salty and maybe a little sour, rather than sweet. Imagine my surprise when I tasted it and discovered the herring tasted like sweet-pickle fish! I had sweet-pickle fish and sweet pickles to put in one dish. This gave me pause, but I decided to push ahead with my original plan and make a few seasoning changes rather than taking the time to change things entirely (two small children fussing for dinner helped with this decision).
Like I said, I pulverized the bran cereal and added chili powder and cayenne pepper, rinsed and patted the herring dry, then coated the herring in the bran powder and put it in a hot pan with some oil to get crispy. For some reason instead of getting crispy, the bran "crust" just fell off in the pan. A few pieces did get a little crunch to them where the crust stayed on, but most just ended up kind of soggy. I'm not really sure where I went wrong here. Maybe my pan wasn't hot enough or I had a little too much oil. Maybe I should have used some egg to dip the fish into first to get the crust to stick better? If I had any desire to try this recipe again ever, I'd try that next time. . .
The sauce ended up okay. I did the usual, sliced the onions and put them in the pan with the chopped sweet pickles to get soft and caramelize a bit. I used a little bit of wine to get all the crust from the fish off the bottom of the pan. I added a diced ancho chile to try to cut the sweetness of the pickle. Then I pureed it. It was tasty by itself, but added to the still-sweet-pickley tasting herring, it was too much. Oh yeah, and I didn't have a chance to get a nice crusty baguette for my po' boys so I ended up using regular hot dog buns, which I didn't even remember to toast a little. Mush on top of mush on top of mush. . . It wasn't pretty (served with roasted Brussels sprouts).
I did have a small victory though. My husband actually ate all of his po' boy, as did I. It wasn't super delicious, but it wasn't awful either, and he did say that my pickled herring was more palatable than any other he has ever had. That's saying something, right? Right?