Recipe: Herring Butter

updated Feb 3, 2020
Herring Butter
This savory herring butter is why you should always keep canned fish in your pantry.

Makes1 1/3 cups

Jump to Recipe
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Seattle chef Renee Erickson is known for drop-dead gorgeous restaurants and carefully sourced produce, meats, and seafood. Between the oysters at The Walrus and the Carpenter, her sardine toast at The Whale Wins, and the beef from her own farm at Bateau, she’s also making her mark in the sustainability department, focusing on highlighting foods that aren’t seen as often (think: tiny fish and less traditional cuts of beef).

Seattle, which sits at the center of the herring run that happens each spring up the West Coast of the United States, is the perfect place to take advantage of the small, oily fish. And more than any other Seattle chef, Renee takes advantage of them to delicious, habit-forming effect. We especially love the herring butter from her cookbook, A Boat, a Whale and a Walrus: Menus and Stories.

If herring butter sounds strange to you, think of it as rillettes made with rich, smoked fish instead of the typical pork. It’s flavorful, creamy, and equally friendly to a picklish topping. Note that this butter can be made with any soft canned fish; smoked sardines make an excellent substitution. However, if you’re using smoked salmon, use six ounces instead of the four called for here, because the flavor isn’t quite as strong as herring or sardines.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Herring Butter

This savory herring butter is why you should always keep canned fish in your pantry.

Makes 1 1/3 cups

Nutritional Info


For the toast and toppings:

  • 1

    baguette (about 12 ounces)

  • 1/3 cup

    extra-virgin olive oil

  • Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon or Jacobsen

  • 1 cup

    drained pickled vegetables

  • 1 tablespoon

    extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1/4 cup

    loosely packed fresh Italian parsley leaves, thinly sliced

For the herring butter:

  • 4 ounces

    oil-packed smoked herring or sardines, drained

  • 1 cup

    (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

  • 1 tablespoon

    finely chopped shallot

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    Dijon mustard

  • Pinch cayenne pepper

  • Crushed flaky sea salt, such as Maldon or Jacobsen


Make the toasts:

  1. Arrange 2 racks to divide the oven into thirds and heat to 350°F. Using a large serrated knife, cut the bread at an angle into 1/2-inch slices. Arrange the slices on 2 large baking sheets, brush with the olive oil, and sprinkle with salt.

  2. Bake until the toasts are blonde and crisp, rotating the pans once or twice during baking, 10 to 15 minutes total. (Toward the end of baking, if the toasts aren't baking at the same rate, remove the browned ones so you can let the others continue baking.) Let the toasts cool on a cooling rack and serve within a few hours.

Make the herring butter:

  1. Place the fish, butter, shallot, mustard, and cayenne in a bowl and beat with an electric hand mixer on high speed until the mixture is homogenous, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula if needed, 1 to 2 minutes total. Taste and season with salt if needed; set aside. (Different fish have different saltiness levels, so it's important to taste before salting.)

  2. When ready to serve, stir the pickled vegetables and olive oil together in a small bowl. Spread about 1 tablespoon of the herring butter on each toast (you will have extra toasts; save for another use). Top each with a chubby pile of pickled vegetables and pinch of parsley.

Recipe Notes

  • Make ahead: You can prepare the herring butter and refrigerate, covered, until ready to use, up to 1 week, but it won't be as fluffy as if you make it immediately before serving. Let the mixture come to room temperature for about 4 hours before spreading. If the butter still seems a bit too firm to spread, work it on a clean cutting board with a pastry scraper, or don latex gloves and knead it with your hands until soft.

(c)2014 by Renee Erickson with Jess Thomson. All rights reserved. Excerpted from A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus: Menus and Stories by permission of Sasquatch Books.