Image: Stefan Milne

Come summer, potato salads are ubiquitous. But this potato, beet, and herring salad—based on the Heringssalat my grandma from Hamburg used to make—is nice all year. Light enough for the patio, rich enough for a main course. It’s also easily adaptable: Don’t like pickled herring? Add some salmon lox before serving instead. You can make it lighter by using Greek yogurt instead of cultured cream. Many versions of such salads are much more decadent—with hard boiled eggs, apples, dill pickles, roast beef or ham, sour cream, mayonnaise. My family’s never needed such things.  

Beet, Potato, and Herring Salad

  • 1 pound beets
  • 1 pound potatoes (ideally something waxy like fingerlings or dense Yukon Golds)
  • 1 jar pickled or wine-marinated herring (about 12–16 ounces, depending on what herring ratio you like)
  • 8 ounces crème fraîche or cultured cream (see a homemade recipe here)
  • 1 shallot
  • 3–5 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • whole coriander and fennel seeds
  • salt and black pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil or hazelnut oil
  • fresh fennel fronds, dill, mint, or tarragon (or all four)
  • rye bread (for serving)
  1. Toast the coriander and fennel seeds in a dry skillet. Set aside. Roughly pick the herbs and keep the stems.

  2. Cut any larger beets in half so that all the pieces are similar sizes. Smaller beets you can leave whole. Put them in a large pot or dutch oven and add enough water to mostly cover the beets. Add a few big pinches of salt, some untoasted coriander and fennel seeds, and the herb stems. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook until you can just stab to the center of a beet with a paring knife, maybe 30 minutes. Add the potatoes (cut to similar sizes) and braise until tender, but not falling apart. (Both should be done around the same time. But keep checking each and take anything that’s getting too soft out.)

  3. Turn off the heat and let cool until you can handle the beets easily. With a clean kitchen towel that you don’t mind dying pink, take the beets and rub off the rough outer skin. Trim away the stemmy top part. Cut the cleaned beets and cooled potatoes into bite-size pieces. 

  4. In large covered dish (glass works great) generously season the beets and potatoes with a few tablespoons of vinegar and some salt and black pepper. Refrigerate for an hour or so. Thinly slice the shallots. When cold, add shallots and the pickled herring pieces, not the pickling liquid. (If you’re using cured salmon, don’t add it yet.) Refrigerate for a couple hours at least, or for a up to a few days. After the mixture has marinated, taste one of the beets or potatoes. It should be tart (but not pickled) and lightly salty. Adjust the seasoning.

  5. When ready to serve, smear a few dollops of cultured cream on a plate. Pile the marinated beets, potatoes, and herring on top (leave the liquid). Garnish with a drizzle of oil, the toasted coriander and fennel seeds, lots of herbs, and some flake salt. Now would be the time to top with salmon lox. Serve with rye bread and, if inclined, a crisp pilsner.
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