Alewives: The Humble Herring

Once used primarily for lobster bait, this rich-tasting river herring is making waves in the culinary world. Alewives are slowly becoming a favorite among chefs and home cooks, prized for their rich flavor and versatility in the kitchen.

What is the Alewife Fish?

Alewife is a species of herring typically found in the rivers of North America. The alewife’s large front body inspired its name, which is in reference to a corpulent woman who runs a tavern (an ale-wife). Alewives found in the West Atlantic Ocean migrate to freshwater bodies to breed while some live in freshwater their whole lives. They’re also considered an invasive species in the Great Lakes, which they reached by swimming through the Welland Canal to bypass Niagara Falls over a century ago. 

Where to Buy Alewife Fish

You can find alewives in freshwater bodies that drain to the Atlantic Ocean, particularly rivers and streams in the United States and Canada. Because alewives are still viewed as bait in many places, it can be hard to find them in the grocery store fish section, but you may have some luck at the local fishmongers.

What Do Alewives Taste Like?

Alewives are rich and oily, packed with fresh fishy umami rounded out with subtle sweetness. Their texture depends on the preparation method, but they generally have tender, flaky white meat.

Cooking with Alewives

These tiny herrings are incredibly versatile and can be cooked in a wide variety of ways. Grill alewives with a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of citrus juice or dredge them with a light breading and pan-fry until golden crisp on the outside. High heat melts their delicate fish bones, allowing you to eat the rich-tasting morsels whole. Serve it over white rice and edamame like in our white fish rice bowl or with a side of tender sous vide asparagus.

Smoking, canning, or pickling alewives is a delicious way to preserve the fresh fish and a great way to infuse subtle fishy umami into other dishes throughout the year. Use smoked alewives in place of smoked sardines for a twist on our corn & smoked fish chowder.

Feature Image: Flickr user Jamie McCaffrey ( CC BY-NC 2.0 )

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