For starters I will be serving Dutch ‘maatjes’. Now, before you say ‘yuk', ‘maatjes’ are a real delicacy and even if you don’t like raw and salted fish – because that’s what it is – you should at least have tried it once in your life.
This plate can do with some more chopped tomatoes!
The word ‘maatjes’ – I guess you could translate it as ‘buddies’, comes from ‘maagd’, meaning ‘virgin’. Because a ‘maatje’ is not just any old herring fillet! To become a ‘maatje’, the herring has to be young, very young … indeed only herrings that haven’t mated yet – and are still ‘virgins’ can claim the title! Moreover, their fat content has to be at least 16%. In order to kill the parasites that thrive in raw fish meat, the freshly caught and filleted herrings are frozen for at least 24 hours. This means that you should never refreeze them and eat them within 3 days after you’ve bought them. The quality control on ‘maatjes’ being very rigorous, there is no health hazard whatsoever.
They are in season for only a short time, from the end of May or the beginning of June till mid-July. In Holland, the arrival of the first keg – because that’s how they are sold – is a yearly national event. Not unlike the first Skrei cod in Norway or the first grouse in Scotland! This year the first keg was sold for 58.000 euros! The money is always donated to charity.
The traditional way of eating ‘maatjes’, is holding the double fillet by its tail over your head. Next you lower it gently into your mouth and you bite off at piece. This is not how I will be serving them today, however. I’ll serve them on a plate, with some freshly chopped onions and tomatoes. You can also make a delicious salad of sliced ‘maatjes’ and granny smith apples. Make sure to serve a slice of toasted bread with them and a cool lager beer or a chilled glass of dry white wine …
I’m not sure about the availability of ‘maatjes’ abroad. But I know for sure that large Dutch communities overseas like to import some kegs to share with their friends and neighbours during a community party … a bit like people from Scandinavian countries celebrate mid-summer eating prawns and drinking Aquavit!
Oh, did I mention that ‘maatjes’ are very good for you? With a fat content of 16% to 22% they contain a lot of omega-3 fat acids, which protect you against cardiac diseases.
P.S. As from Tuesday, I will be posting again about my recent Loire Valley trip. We’ll pick it up where we left off three days ago …