Cooking in the Shetland Isles
Images courtesy of Quadrille Publishing
“Shetlanders enjoy a bit of revelry. Shetlanders make you feel welcome, like you can only say the right thing and it’s never getting late,” say James and Tom Morton in the introduction to their new book, Shetland: Cooking on the Edge of the World. Describing the volume as “a love story” rather than a recipe book per se, they celebrate a culinary tradition that is rooted in survival: more than 100 miles from the nearest coast of Scotland, the 20,000-odd inhabitants of the Shetland Isles are a people who have learnt to fend for themselves.
The book’s authors (a father-and-son duo) take their readers on a culinary journey through their historic archipelago. Along the way, you’ll discover the freshest fish – think raw sea trout with burnt butter and charred spring onion – lesser-known meats such as reestit mutton, unusal side dishes including tatties with tarragon and peppery rocket pesto, and classic baked goods such as apple pie and lemon meringue. You’ll learn some new vocabulary, too: “bannocks”, for instance, turn out to be a Shetlandic staple made from flour and liquid and traditionally cooked on a griddle over the fire.
Here, the authors share their recipe for scotch eggs made from sassermaet (or “saucermeat”) – a Shetland version of the Scottish lorne or square sausage that comes with plenty of seasoning and spice.
Sassermaet scotch eggs
7 medium eggs
500g sassermaet (or unadulterated beef sausages mixed with a pinch each of black pepper, white pepper, clove, mace, allspice, cinnamon and ground ginger)
Plain flour, for dusting
At least 200g stale bread or breadcrumbs
Sunflower or peanut oil, for frying
Good sea salt
First you need to hard(ish) boil your eggs. Place a large pan of water onto a high heat to bring to the boil. Use more water than you think you need – you want it to lose as little temperature as possible when you lower your eggs in. Once boiling, add six of your eggs (keeping one for the breadcrumbing), as quickly as possible after one another, and start a timer. Set it for six minutes (almost runny) or seven minutes (pretty nearly set). Once it goes off, use the lid of the pan to hold the eggs in while you pour out all the hot water, then run cold water inside on full blast to cool the eggs.
Give each egg a wee tap on the side of the pan to crack its shell, then pop them back into the water. This lets the water seep in between the cooked white and the shell and makes them easy to peel. After at least five minutes of soaking, peel off the shells.
Meanwhile, you can roughly split your sassermaet into six equal lumps. Tear off a sheet of plastic wrap and lay it onto a clean work surface. Place a lump of the sassermaet on the plastic wrap and smoosh it out with the heel of your hand so it is flat and less than 1cm (½ inch) thick.
Place a hard-boiled egg on top of your flat sassermaet and then use the plastic wrap to wrap the egg up. You’ll get a sense of whether you need to go flatter with the meat – it should easily surround the egg forming a sealed ball. Smooth out the seams, set aside and repeat with the rest.
Next, prepare three plates: one covered with a pile of flour, one with your remaining egg beaten with a little salt and one with your breadcrumbs. Take each meat-covered egg and roll it in the flour to coat. Dust off any excess, then dunk it in the egg, rolling to cover. Let any excess drain off, then pop it in the breadcrumbs. Once well coated, set aside and repeat with the rest. If you want to eat these freshly fried (recommended), you can chill in the fridge at this stage for up to a day.
Use a deep fat fryer if you have one. If you want to use a pan on the hob, only do so if you are experienced and you have an accurate thermometer. Heat your oil to 160°C. Fry your eggs for a good 10 minutes or so, until a deep golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper and serve warm or cold. Store in the fridge if not serving hot.
Eat with a pint.
‘Shetland: Cooking on the Edge of the World’ by James and Tom Morton (£25, Quadrille Publishing) is out now.
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