Even though everyone is gaga for those elusive Peconic bay scallops–still abundant in local seafood shops and even on city restaurant menus, including as a recent crudo selection at Il Pesce at Eataly–a lesser known indigenous seafood delicacy made it into my breakfast this morning.
About a week ago, my mom picked up some herring fillets at Cor-J Seafood in Hampton Bays, and pickled them, onions, cucumber and cauliflower in “equal parts vinegar and water, with salt and sugar and spices to taste.” They were blueback herring, a particularly beautiful and delicious local herring that migrates in and around Long Island coasts in the early winter. Baymen pick them up in pound traps, where they might co-exist with eel this time of year. Recreational fishers jig for them off Montauk (and then use them as live bait for striped bass).
These fall and winter-run herring are different than the spring-run alewives, featured in this family tale from Edible East End, along with vague recipe for pickling and other preparations. They are also slightly different from the European species that predominates at Russ & Daughters in Manhattan, or that are used by Acme in Brooklyn. I have been told that particularly big Long Island hauls of blueback herring still make their way into the Fulton Fish Market at Hunts Point and then on to Polish food shops or other businesses that pickle, smoke and cream them.
Cor-J makes its own pickled herring from this species–tangy refreshing preparation for the oily fish. Reliable sources say blueback is also showing up at other East End seafood purveyors, including Braun in Cutchogue, the Southold Fish Market, Citarella in East Hampton, and the Seafood Shop in Wainscott. Which means there still time to put up a few quarts to get you through the winter.