I didn't know herring had a season, until I was invited to attend Russ & Daughters' New Catch Holland Herring Festival.
The annual event, held Tuesday night at the Astor Center just south of the Public Theater in the East Village, was swarming with more than 300 herring lovers. There were stations positioned around the event space, with different herring preparations. Pickled herring -- plump, firm, sweet -- with onions and cream sauce served on rye bread was, appropriately enough for such a classic appetizer, at Table One.
There was herring and mustard sauce on a rye crisp at another table. Curried herring with a sliver of a Medjool date and crushed peanuts at a third.
And then there was the star of the show, the New Catch Holland herring, or Hollandse Nieuwe -- raw herring from the North Sea, caught at the height of their fatty, buttery richness and packed in salt for shipping to, in this case, the former New Amsterdam.
The line for the New Catch herring snaked across the room and into the entry hall.
The Dutch typically eat it with chopped raw onions and pickles, and both were offered at the New Catch station. And the Dutch typically eat this herring by holding it by the tail and sliding it into their mouths.
Lots of people were getting into the spirit of things, and eating it this way. I saw one dad gamely trying to cut up his New Catch herring for his son ... who promptly spit out his sample onto his dad's plate.
Former Gourmet editor Ruth Reichel was there.
"I have a house upstate, but I come down to the city for herring!" she explained.
And New York Times food writer and frequent Last Chance Foods guest Melissa Clark barely glanced at the other offerings around the room, including the new herring, dill sauce, and lemon dressing offered by guest chefs April Bloomfield and Josh Even.
"I'm here for the matje!" she exclaimed.
And as soon as she got her serving of New Catch herring, she told me, "I'm going to get right back in line."
I did the same thing.