Asking people to sample herring is like standing on the corner trying to get someone to adopt your ugly baby. At least that’s what Warner Lew of Deckhand Seafoods says. It’s no secret that salmon is the dominant fish on Seattle menus, but Lew and a small group of people are trying to change that.
A few years ago Lexi, the mononymous owner at Old Ballard Liquor Company, wanted herring for her menu and couldn’t find a supplier. Lew directed her to a supplier, and she hatched the event known as Northwest Herring Week. Now, three years later (with the participation of Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute), Herring Week has grown to include over 60 participating restaurants–double the number from last year.
From June 19–25, Seattle restaurants, including eight James Beard Award nominees and winners, will have herring at the center of the plate. Dishes will range from a charred citrus-cured herring from the Chihuly Garden Cafe, to herring fritters from FareStart. Other participating restaurants include Terra Plata, Tilth, Le Petit Cochon, and Altstadt.
So, what’s the big deal about this fish? According to the World Wildlife Fund, more than 85 percent of the world’s fisheries have been pushed to or beyond their biological limits. As populations of predatory fish decline, smaller species can now overpopulate. Meanwhile, herring remains relatively abundant and sustainable. In fact, fisheries in Alaska are failing because demand is so low. But not if Lew has anything to do with it.
With more omega 3s than salmon, herring is one of the world’s most consumed fish (except in America), according to Lew. It’s also full of flavor and can be served in more ways than the briny pickled herring you get around the holidays. Because of Herring Week in past years, restaurants like Revel, Joule, and the Whale Wins have tried to put this oily fish on their menu as often as they can.
Zachary Lyons, the man behind the event this year, says that Alaska Herring Week is meant to raise awareness and to increase demand for the fish in the restaurant industry. He hopes to educate not only chefs and the dining public, but also Alaskan fisherman, who think it’s nothing more than crab bait, about the use, value, and production of herring.
The Alaska Herring Week website has more information, plus the full list of participating restaurants and grocers.