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Issue 36 - Shetland delights

Scotland Magazine Issue 36
December 2007


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Shetland delights

Sue Lawrence looks at the wonderful ingredients available on Shetland.

Britain’s most northerly island is Shetland, home of some to the best raw ingredients in the world. Self-sufficient in its ability to feed its population (because of its remoteness) until the late 19th century, it did not rely on significant food imports until after World War I. The superb traditional foodstuffs such as native breeds of sheep and cattle, barley and an incomparable variety of seafood, now have the added value of producers also concentrating on sustainability.

Shetland salmon is some of the best to be found anywhere. Lower stocking densities than other farms, combined with the fastrunning currents of the north Atlantic and the natural ebb and flow of ocean-driven water mean top quality. The fast currents cause the fish to swim vigorously – and in some of the most unpolluted water in the world.

Since there are no rivers in Shetland, there is very little fresh water runoff in the voes (small fjords), and so the chances of farmed salmon escaping into the rivers, as has happened elsewhere, is negligible. And as for the taste, Shetland salmon is not called the ‘Grand Cru’ of salmon for nothing.

Another natural product that is gaining a reputation from Lerwick to London, is Shetland lamb. The pure-bred native Shetland sheep (some 500 of them), reared on local farmer Ronnie Eunson’s organic farm, graze on the fields that run from the hilltops right down to the sea. This ancient breed (neolithic sheep bones reveal its ancestry here) graze on heather grassland that might contain wild flowers and herbs such as wild thyme, violets, orchids, primroses or bird’s foot trefoil. Seaweed is also a part of the Shetland sheep’s diet.

Ronnie explained how they somehow – innately – know when the tide is ebbing and when to come down to the shore to graze.

And so the seaweed not only provides the animals with essential minerals (they only start going down to the shore at the end of the year when there is less grass), it gives an additional flavour to the meat, which has been proved to have unique health-giving properties. The Shetland breed has a healthier balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids than other breeds of sheep, so abounds with good health. Shetland lamb is so good, it needs very little in terms of add-ons when cooking, but the older it gets the more spices and flavourings can be used to complement the strong flavour of what becomes mutton.

But the lambs are at least five months old, sold between the end of August and early January. Shetland lamb also now has the P.D.O. (Protected Designation of Origin) status, awarded by the European Union.

Shetland farmers welcome this because the native products have something very special to offer the market place.

It is a richly flavoured meat, the taste being described as “rather like tasting very good malt whiskies from different areas, it absorbs everything from the area and embodies it.”

25g / 1 oz butter
1/2 medium onion, peeled, finely chopped
55g / 2 oz medium or coarse oatmeal
the grated zest of 1 small lemon
1 leg of lamb about 1.5 kg / 3 lb 5 oz, tunnel-boned
1 tbsp olive oil
sprigs of rosemary
1 tbsp flour
500 ml / 18 fl oz lamb stock

1. Melt the butter then gently fry the onion until softened then add the oatmeal, stirring. Cook for about 8-10 minutes then add the lemon and salt and pepper to taste
2. Once cool, stuff the lamb with the oatmeal, packing in neatly. Tuck the meat into a small roasting tin and rub the oil all over. Insert the tip of a sharp knife all over the meat and insert tiny sprigs of rosemary
3. Roast at 220ºC / 425ºF / Gas 7 for 20 minutes then reduce the oven to 190ºC / 375ºF / Gas 5 for 15 minutes per 450g / 1lb, or until done to your liking. Remove and rest for at least 10 minutes
4. Place the tin on a direct heat and stir in the flour, then gradually add the stock, whisking all the time. Once thick enough, season to taste and serve with the lamb

2 medium free-range egg yolks
1 level tsp Dijon mustard
freshly squeezed lemon juice
approx. 300 ml / 10 fl oz oil (half sunflower, half olive)
2 heaped tbsp fresh dill, finely chopped
4 medium-sized salmon steaks or fillets
olive oil

1. For the mayo, place the yolks, mustard and 1 tsp lemon juice in a food processor with some salt, process for a few seconds
2. Very slowly dribble in the oil throughout the feeder tube, literally drop by drop at first. Once an emulsion has begun to form, you can increase the dribble to a slow stream
3. Spoon the mayo into a bowl and add half tbsp boiling water, to thin down a little. Stir in some salt and pepper and the dill then taste and add extra lemon juice if you like
4. Place salmon on an oiled grill tray and rub olive oil on top. Cook under a preheated grill for 3-4 minutes each side, depending on thickness, then remove, season and serve with seasonal vegetables and dill mayo

750 g / 1 lb 10 oz small new potatoes, scrubbed
1 crisp apple, diced
1 large gherkin, diced
3 spring onions, chopped
2 tbsp mayonnaise
150 ml / 5 fl oz sour cream
1 tsp horseradish relish
1 tbsp freshly chopped chives
1 tsp white wine vinegar
6 – 8 slices of hot smoked salmon

1. Boil the potatoes in salted water until tender, then drain well
2. Mix the mayonnaise, sour cream, horseradish, chives and vinegar together, with salt and pepper to taste. Pour over the hot potatoes, stirring gently to coat
3. Once cool, add the apple, gherkins and spring onions
4. Serve with the salmon and a side salad of watercress