Saturday, 21 December 2013

Herring - Renga (Ρέγκα)

Thinking back to my New Zealand days, I was not really deprived of my culture's culinary specialties. My mother cooked most of them, and for the things she couldn't cook, there was a Italian delicatessen near our home (which was primarily known for its European immigrants at the time) where we could pick up Spanish olive oil, sardines preserved in salt, Greek table olives, Italian salami and salted herring, which we called 'RENG-ga' (ρέγγα). Renga was one of those specialties which we bought once in a while, and ate a tiny bit of as an accompaniment to bean dishes. The renga was prepared and kept in the fridge.
Nowadays, we are all better informed about healthy cuisine, and we generally know what's good for us and what isn't. Salty food is not really good for our health; nevertheless, we still like to break the rules every now and then. Salted herrings are one of those every-now-and-then foods that we like to to eat, mainly to remind us of older times, and people who are no longer with us. These delicacies are widely available in most deli counters at the supermarket and most of the main markets in the town. It's been two years since we last bought renga - I decided that it was time to revive the renga tradition in my own home once more time this year.

Salted herrings are an imported product in Greece. These fish had always been popular in old-time Crete, especially among villagers who could not get access to fresh fish on a regular basis. Thus, they bought salted fish back to their homes in the remote inland or highlands, which could be stored without refrigeration, as was common in older times. The fish could be kept for as long as necessary, wrapped up in a piece of paper and placed in plastic. Salted fish was popular on certain feastdays during fasting periods, eg 25 March and Palm Sunday.


Salted herring is slightly burnt over an open flame, basically to heat it and remove the skin. The cooking process involves high heat to give a smoky taste to the herring. This is best done with a gas flame or even just a piece of paper set alight, with which you scorch the fish all over. Once you do this, you then open the fish and break it into small pieces, peeling away the remaining skin. The bones need to be carefully removed although they are soft and don't sting; the head and tail are generally not eaten, although gourmets may tell you that they contain the most taste.

If there is any roe in the fish, this is carefully removed, so as not to lose any. Lemon juice and olive oil are beaten together to create an emulsion, and the roe is placed inside this. With a fork, the roe is broken down and beaten into the emulsion. Then the broken fish pieces are placed into the mixture, as a marinade which removes some of the saltiness of the fish.

The renga is served like a side dish, mainly to accompany bean dishes. Renga is also a comfort food for the winter.

I prepared my renga last night to go with a curried black-eyed bean soup, but as it's a bit of a smelly and oily business, I wasn't able to take photos easily. I'm showing you my cousin Eirini's photos instead; it was she who inspired me to prepare renga for one more time. Eirini mashes the roe into the olive oil and lemon juice marinade, which thickens it slightly. In my own photo (below), the liquid is clearer because I had no roe to mash in. My fish is also whiter as I did not smoke it for as long as Eirini did.


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1 comment:

  1. How original and unique is this , im almost certain that nothing else is posted about this fish , now that its out there for the globe to read i would not be surprised if some time in the near future some frustrated cook/chef does not get ideas and ends tossing it in some sort of vegetable warm salad and charges a bundle for it , nice one! im off to the shops to get one its been ages since..

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