Herring fest!
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Herring fest!

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Herring can tempt the taste buds whether it is fermented, pickled, smoked, cured, or eaten raw.

For my father, no meal could start without a foreshpise of herring.

He married the glistening piece of bony fish with a slice of raw onion and tomato, and laid it onto small piece of well-done rye toast. A bite or two of herring was chased with a few thimblefuls of vodka.

Herring was not just a fish in our home.

It was a lifestyle.

Nostalgia for that way of life will share the stage with nouvelle cuisine in an evening in which a dizzying and mouth-watering array of herrings will be showcased at the 2013 Bergen County Herring Festival tomorrow night at Congregation Netivot Shalom in Teaneck.

“It’s held every two years, and it’s really a fun event,” Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot said of the shul fundraiser. Most of the proceeds go to his modern Orthodox congregation; 10 percent is donated to the Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corp.

“People come from all over Bergen County and New York City and elsewhere and sample different gourmet herrings from several purveyors,” said Rabbi Helfgot, who admits to being a fan of a newfangled flavor, garlic-infused herring.

Shul members Jonathan Shore and Noah Rothblatt, who have organized the festival, say there’s something there for aficionados and newbies, alike.

We had a van come in last year from Connecticut,” said Mr. Shore, a self-described foodie. “And quite a number of our guests are young, in their 30s. This year, I think that our vendors have really stepped up their game and are taking this very seriously.”

That is entirely true, said Stuart Kahan, co-owner of Ma’adan in Teaneck. He is planning on bringing about 60 pounds of herring to the festival, including such varieties as mustard flavored herring; spicy herring with a chipotle kick; shtiglitz, a pareve variety of the popular herring in cream sauce; herring in pesto; garlic-infused herring, and a few other top-secret varieties that Mr. Kahan has created and will unveil at the festival.

“They are a surprise,” he said, adding that the soon-to-be-revealed varieties will be available at the store.

At Teaneck’s Essex and Grand, deli manager Yitz Stern says he is very excited about the store’s participation in the festival. Mr. Stern also will bring about 60 pounds of the fish, in varieties that include matjes, schmaltz, Texas-style, wasabi and habanera, Danish, and Dijon mustard sauce.

A third vendor, the Brooklyn-based Schwartz’s, also will be on hand so guests may sample herrings including matjes and schmaltz.

In addition to the spectrum of herrings, guests will also have the chance to sample premium vodkas and single-malt scotches. There also will be tastes of smoked salmon and roes, all accompanied with breads, olives, potatoes, beets, and hard-boiled eggs in the traditional Finnish style.

For those who long for the past, an old school table will remind everyone of their father’s and grandfather’s kiddushes, with such staples as old-style schmaltz herring – with the bones in.

This, the third Bergen County Herring Festival, grew out of the typical Shabbat kiddush, which Mr. Shore had helped to set up each week. He started bringing in a variety of herrings he found when he worked on the Lower East Side.

The idea to go bigger, better, and upscale was conceived after one of his kiddush colleagues read a New Yorker article about a chi-chi herring tasting event in a Manhattan penthouse put on by Russ and Daughters, the Lower East Side appetizing icon. Et voila! The Bergen County Herring Festival was born.

Nearly 100 people came to last year’s festival, and organizers are hoping for even more herring lovers this time around.

Herring Fun Facts

Where does the term “red herring” come from?

Probably from herrings that are kippered by smoking and salting until they turn reddish-brown. Before refrigeration, kipper was known for being strongly pungent. In 1807, William Cobbett wrote about how he used red herrings to lay a false trail as he trained hunting dogs.

Characterized by a small head and bright, sleek, silvery body, herring fish are widely found in the shallow waters of North Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Herrings have a life expectancy of 12 to 16 years. The Southern herring can live up to 23 to 25 years.

Herrings have been a significant source of staple food for human beings since 3000 B.C.E.

It can be eaten fermented, pickled, smoked, cured, or raw. Herrings also are used for manufacturing fish oil. They serve as a good source of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids.

Information
What: 2013 Bergen County Herring Festival

When: Saturday, December 14, 8:30 to 11 p.m.

Where: Congregation Netivot Shalom, 811 Palisade Ave., Teaneck,
201-801-9022

How: Admission is $50. For reservations or more information, email herringfestival@gmail.com. Or just show up with your appetite.

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