The Slow Food Cooks’ Alliance has been active in the Ukraine since March, and here one of its members, Victoria Parkhomenko, shares her recipe for Danube herring.
Gastroexpert, restaurateur and chef of Kiev restaurant Klukva&Brukva, Victoria not only focuses on local traditions but also sources ingredients direct from farmers all over the country, making it Ukraine’s first locavore restaurant. “We salt and smoke meat, fish and Black Sea mussels ourselves and bake our own bread and pies. We make our own teas, parsley lemonade, juniper water, liqueurs, jams and craft beer. We even have our own plates, created together with Ukrainian ceramicists,” says Victoria. “We must not forget that ‘to eat’ means to live, to love, to think, to create, and the quality of your food depends on the quality of your life.”
Fish caught in the Black Sea, like garfish, dogfish and sturgeon, and brought to the port of Odessa by fishermen every morning, make up much of the menu. “And when the Danube herring season begins in Vylkove, it’s a real festival! It always hurts when I’m offered salmon in restaurants in Odessa in the summer,” says Victoria.
During spawning, this unique, dark-backed herring swims into the Danube delta, where the river flows into the Black Sea, and feeds on algae which gives it a unique taste. Fishing in the town of Vylkove starts in April or May and lasts until June. During this time fishermen—in other words almost all the local men—live in what are known as “skeletons” on stilts and catch the Danube herring, also known as dunaika, using special fishing gear. One end of the net is attached to the boat, while the other is marked with an unsinkable buoy. Once the net has been lowered, the boat moves slowly out towards the sea.
Fresh herring is one of the most popular local foods, and its fatty but delicate flesh makes it ideal for pickling, marinating or boiling in salt water (in which case it is served with sauerkraut).
Danube Herring Vorschmack in a Bun
1 large tart green apple
1 Danube herring weighing at least 400 grams, shredded
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
25-40 grams butter, softened
Peel and core the apple and sprinkle over with the lemon juice. Chop the apple, herring, butter, eggs and onion with a sharp knife, then mix together and season with salt and mustard to taste.
Remove the crumb from the bun and dry in the oven. Fill with the herring mixture.