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A rollmop is a traditional German fish dish normally served as a snack or appetizer. In most cases it has two primary ingredients, namely a pickled fillet of herring that’s been sliced thinly and wrapped around a small piece of vegetable, usually an onion or pickle. The whole thing is usually secured with a toothpick or skewer. The snack is perhaps most popular in northern Europe where herring is commonly fished. Herring is a small fish rich in helpful omega-3 fatty acids and high in protein. The snack is often considered quite nutritious while also being filling. Cooks can and often do add their own variations, including substituting different kinds of fish and experimenting with different fillings. In many places pre-made rollmops are sold as a convenience food, usually in jars or cans, though the simplicity of their basic recipe makes them approachable for even the most inexperienced cook.
The core idea of this appetizer is very simple. First comes a pickled fillet of fish, normally the cold water herring. Herring is small to begin with, but pickling tends to shrink the meat even further. Most of the time the skin is left attached for this and similar recipes, and it’s usually soft enough after pickling to eat along with the flesh, though some diners will discard it. Chefs next rest a small piece of vegetable in the center of the fillet, then roll the fillet from one end to the next, enclosing the vegetable in the center.
Small pickled onions and pickles known as gherkins are some of the most popular choices, though carrots, beets, and olive can also be used. The main idea is to create a savory accompaniment to the saltiness of the fish. Rollmops are usually held together with a toothpick or skewer.
In general, this appetizer packs a lot of nutrition into its small size. While not perhaps a health food, it has many of the vitamins and nutrients that have been lauded as helpful if not essential to good health. Most dietitians and medical experts recommend eating a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids, for instance, and fish oil is an excellent natural source of this nutrient; herring particularly is a good source, and reserves aren’t compromised in the pickling process. Depending on how it’s prepared the food can be on the salty side, which can be problematic for those hoping to limit their sodium intake, but overall the food is normally considered a relatively good choice, at least from a nutritional perspective.
Rollmops lend themselves very well to a number of different variations and modifications. While many traditional recipes only call for herring, any fish that is thin and pliable enough is acceptable. Alternatives to herring include smelt and other larger freshwater fish varieties. Rolls can also be made with sardines, though in Germany this variation is normally recognized as its own dish, namely kronsardinen, or crown sardines.
There are a lot of possibilities when it comes to the center ingredient, too. While pickled vegetables might be the most common, people can use fresh as well; bits of cheese or even fruit can be used, too. A lot depends on the desired taste and the whims of the chef in charge.
There are similarly many different ways to eat the rolls once completed. Some people eat them cold and with their hands, leaving everything touching so the different flavors and textures can be experienced together. Others disassemble the ingredients and eat them as part of a sandwich. Still others eat the pieces separately as finger foods, and coat the components with bread crumbs and fry them in oil or bacon fat.
Rolls may be made fresh, but they also come prepared in glass jars, normally packed with brine or other pickling liquid. Packaged rolls are often a good alternative for travel and on-the-go eating, and can save a lot of time as well. Many traditionalists feel that packaged options are too sour, however, and many claim that soaking the entire roll in pickling solution can serve to severely alter or stunt the taste. Purists who wish to make the rolls ahead can often store them successfully under refrigeration for several weeks. It isn’t usually recommended to store them in metal containers, though, since many metals will react with the acidic pickling solution in the fish and vegetables, which can alter the taste.
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