As you might know Belgium is in trouble. We can’t really hide it; it has been all over the international press… The New York Times calls Belgium” a surreal state“. The Economist says “Belgium, time to call it a day!”
What will happen next?
Contemplations about Flanders joining Holland have been made… Opinions pro and con have been formed… And my opinion? Mmm… That would lead us way to far into political mayhem!
I’ll try to explain you what exactly this ultimate délicatesse is…
In short it’s a virgin herring.
Every spring these herrings leave behind them the cold winter months of starvation. They eat themselves lusciously fat. They get all pretty for the breeding season. To be more precise 16% fat pretty.
This is when they are most mouth-watering. Our fellow Dutchmen (or Danishes or Norwegians) fish them around this period.
But then they still have a long route before we can devoure the maatjes.
First they are gutted (kaken) but the pancreas is left inside. The pancreas enzymes are the key-players here I believe.
They do what they always do, what they do in your body and mine, they digest. Only this time the only thing left to digest is the fish itself.
So the herring turns into this succulent silky-smooth texture unlike anything you’ve ever tasted before.
After the gutting they are salted to keep the herring ultra-fresh during this ripening process. To finish off the herring is frozen 24h to kill any possible parasites.
And then finally they arrive to us.
These little virgin herrings with their silky texture and milky salt taste have the most beautiful pink inside and glossy silver outside.
Most of the time maatjes are eaten au naturel.
Traditionally they are served with raw onion finely chopped and black pepper. But some say this kills the delectable taste. In the old days they had to add the onion because without a freezer salt had to be used more liberally.
Here is a fancier serve of a maatje. The sourness of the dressing, the crispiness of the crostini, the freshness of the fennel seeds and the watercress are in perfect harmony with the milky salty oily taste of the maatjes!
Enjoy but by all means don’t forget the freshly cracked black pepper!
Rye Bread Crostini with Maatjes and horseradish dressing
4 slices of rye bread (see upcoming post or your local bakery)
1 tablespoons of horseradish (fresh or cream)
2 tablespoons of sour cream
Black Pepper and Sea Salt
2 spring onions finely sliced
1 garlic clove
1 tablespoon of fennel seeds
2 handfuls of watercress washed
For the dressing combine horseradish, sour cream, lemon zest and a good squeeze of lemon juice. Add sea salt and black pepper.
Poor a good lug of olive oil and crushed fennel seeds in a pan and put on a medium heat. Rub the slices of bread with garlic on both sides. Toast the bread in the olive oil.
Cut the maatjes into bite size pieces.
Assemble crostini: cover a slice of rye bread with maatjes and watercress. Drizzle with a spoonful of horseradish dressing and top of with thinly sliced spring onion, lemon zest and freshly cracked black pepper!
Serve with a glass of cold white wine! Or as an appetizer with a G&T!