Culinary Archaeology: The Quest for Schillerlocken Salad

As I mentioned in my Christmas post, I decided to forego the traditional herring salad for Christmas 2017, because it is a lot of work and with my Mom largely out of commission, I was stuck doing the holiday cooking/food preparation all on my own.

So I looked for something nice to serve for dinner on Christmas instead and suddenly remembered Schillerlocken salad, another fishy salad which my Mom occasionally made for festive occasions in the 1980s. I’d always liked this salad, plus it contains fewer ingredients than herring salad, so I thought, “Maybe I’ll make Schillerlocken salad instead.”

However, my quest to make Schillerlocken salad was doubly thwarted. For starters, my Mom had lost the recipe – at any rate, I couldn’t find it in the messy collection of magazine clippings stuffed into a notebook that my Mom uses as a recipe collection. My Mom also had no real memory of the salad (“Yeah, maybe I made something like that. I don’t really remember and it was a long time ago. No, I don’t know where the recipe is.”) and while the internet yielded a few recipes for Schillerlocken salad, none of them were even remotely close to what I remembered. So I had to recreate the ingredient list from memory.

The second obstacle I encountered in my quest to make Schillerlocken salad was more serious, because it turned out that the key ingredient, a type of smoked fish named Schillerlocke (named so, because it curls up like Friedrich Schiller’s ponytail, when smoked), had become nigh impossible to get, because the fish species in question, a type of shark called spiny dogfish, has become endangered due to overfishing, at least in the North Sea. Apparently, so I later learned on Twitter, spiny dogfish is still plentiful in North American coastal water to the point that Maine fishermen often discard it as bycatch, which seems like a collossal waste.

Still, you can’t make Schillerlocken salad without Schillerlocken and so I resigned myself to placing it on the list of foods I used to like a lot, but will probably never get to eat again, because it derives from an endangered species. Lady Curzon soup, a particular type of turtle soup, is another example. There are substitute recipes for Lady Curzon soup around (which I should really try some day, just to see if it still tastes as good as I remember) and you can still get turtle soup in Louisiana, made from non-endangered snapping turtles. But I haven’t even seen Lady Curzon soup on a menu in more than thirty years, let alone had it.

However, a few days ago, my abandoned quest for Schillerlocken salad took an unexpected turn, when I came across the elusive Schillerlocken after all, in the display of a Bremerhaven fish vendor. “Are those real Schillerlocken?” I asked the salesperson, who answered in the affirmative.

Now the fish vendor is a reputable company with its own smokehouse and restaurant, renowned for its high quality and sustainably fished products, so the Schillerlocken were not the result of dodgy pirate fishing ignoring fishing restrictions (in which case I wouldn’t have bought them). They or rather the spiky dogfish was likely imported from North America, where it’s not endangered. So I bought two Schillerlocken and got to have Schillerlocken salad after all.


Two Schillerlocken, fresh from the fishmonger

Of course, I still didn’t have the recipe, but I managed to cobble together a pretty good approximation of the ingredient list from memory, consisting of Schillerlocken, red bell pepper, tomatoes, spring onions, pickled celeriac, pickled cucumbers and pickled pearl onions in a sauce consisting of olive oil, red wine vinegar, ketchup, Dijon mustard, salt, pepper and a mix of dried herbs I like adding to salads.

I’m not sure how closely I managed to hit my Mom’s original recipe from the 1980s, but the result was delicious. I’ll definitely make it again, though only for special occasions. For starters, because the Schillerlocken are really pricey. They also apparently have a fairly high mercury content, so it’s not healthy to eat them too often, especially since I also still have two mercury containing tooth fillings from way back when.

Apparently, there is a Schillerlocken substitute called Goldlocken now, made from tilapia, so I may try making the salad with those to see if the taste and consistency are the same.

Schillerlocken salad

And here is the Schillerlocken salad. The matchstick shaped bits are pickled celeriac.

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