Maet an’ Me: Adam Civico

9 June 2020

Maet is the Shetland dialect word for food. It's an important word because maet is synonymous with almost every aspect of Shetland life. It's usually at the heart of island homes and community gatherings, bringing laughter, light and happiness – just what we all need right now.

In our new 'Maet an’ Me' series, we invite kent faces to share their favourite recipes and food inspiration with our growing Shetland food and drink family. So dip dee, draa in aboot, an savour a maet moment wi wis…

Adam Civico is editor of The Shetland Times. He moved to the islands from South Yorkshire in 2012 with his young family and here writes about the joys of frying.

One of my Christmas presents last year was a deep fat fryer. It’s not great for the waistline but it does produce some superbly tasty food and provided ample inspiration for this article.

Food is much more than just sustenance, also bringing pleasure and giving cooks a way of expressing their creativity.

No celebration is complete without a good feed and there is nothing finer than sharing an amazing meal with friends and family.

Artistic talent largely passed me by and my musical endeavours are never likely to be heard beyond my own four walls. But I like to think I’m a dab hand in the kitchen and there are few things I enjoy more than cooking up a treat.

Both my parents cooked, which gave me a good grounding. Mum was a home economics teacher and my late father enjoyed creating dishes inspired by our family’s Italian heritage. He also made a mean curry and I’m glad to have inherited many of his Indian recipe books.

Curries aside, I’m not one for overly-fancy, exuberant dishes. Simple hearty fare cooked well wins every time, for me. That, I think, is a legacy of Dad’s love of straightforward Italian food.

For this piece, I’d considered a Mediterranean-style fish stew using some of the fantastic fresh fish and seafood landed and produced in the isles. 

But the coronavirus lockdown has made me hanker for straightforward and nostalgic dishes. And what can be simpler and heartier than battered fish? Delicious flakes of succulent white flesh encased in crisp golden batter. That’s foodie heaven.

Shetland Times editor Adam Civico. Photo: Brian Gray.Shetland Times editor Adam Civico. Photo: Brian Gray.As well as being tasty there’s also something incredibly nostalgic about fish and chips. I recall a Saturday morning childhood routine that involved karate training and an inevitable pit stop at the fish and chip shop on the way home.

It was one of those places where the queue snaked around the corner – particularly as Saturday lunchtime approached. That’s all part of the magic of the nation’s favourite dish – the aromas wafting from the fryers whetting the appetite for the meal ahead.

Wherever I have lived I’ve always found a favourite chip shop.Not all the best fried food comes from takeaways, though.

My childhood home was in a small village nestled in the beautiful countryside between Sheffield and Barnsley. 

Our next-door neighbour was an old lady, affectionately known to me as “Aunty” Ella. She always wore a pinny with a selection of sweets in the pocket – a surefire way to endear herself to her young neighbour. She also had a stovetop deep fat fryer, full of lard.

I recall on her frying days being mesmerised as I watched the animal fat slowly melt into a bubbling liquid. Of course, the real treat was being treated to some fried delicacy or another.

This was Barnsley in the 1980s so those delicacies tended to be of the no-frills variety, supreme among them was the potato scallop. A thick slice of floury potato dipped in batter and fried to saffron-coloured perfection.

Until recently, I had never done much frying of my own, but that changed last Christmas when that little fryer was unwrapped. Thanks, boys.

To my mind, nothing beats battered fish and potato scallops. Of course, fresh fish is key and in Shetland we are blessed with the best in the world.

My new favourite is ling, a species that I’m not sure I’d ever heard of before moving to Shetland.

Now, whenever I visit the Blydoit shop at Sound in Lerwick I never leave without a few fillets. Its soft sweet flesh is perfect for the deep fat treatment.

For the batter, I normally fall back on Aunty Ella’s recipe. 

Take three or four tablespoons of plain flour and mix with a heaped teaspoon of baking powder. Slowly add water and beat until you have a thick batter, then add a couple of teaspoons of vinegar – the good old chip shop malt variety. 

The acidity reacts with the baking powder making the batter even more effervescent, helping produce a light crispy coating. 

You can season it with salt but I tend not to bother, simply dowsing the finished product with salt and more vinegar.

As an alternative, I recently tried a “just add water” tempura batter mix. I was not particularly keen on the MSG aroma that hit the back of my nose as the water was added to the mixture. But the batter turned out well – beautifully golden and as crisp as any other. 

The tempura batter was used for the meal which I photographed to accompany this article.

Cooking it could not be simpler, but you will need a deep fat fryer or a pan full of oil, heated to 170ºC. 

Take your fish and dip it in the batter until it is well coated. You must ensure the batter is thick or it slides off as the fish hits the oil and you end up with plain fish and lots of bits of batter floating around it. 

A good mix will cling to the flesh and puff and fizz away until it is ready to come out. I tend not to time the cooking but judge it on when the batter looks the right colour. If it looks too pale – ”anaemic” as my wife calls it – then pop it back in. Six or seven minutes is usually plenty in my little fryer.

As it is only tiny, I have to cook in batches and usually put the fish in a kitchen roll-lined dish in a pre-heated oven (about 110ºC) to keep hot while the rest is cooked. I kid myself that it soaks up some of the lingering oil.

The scallops are cooked in exactly the same way. Cut a good Shetland tattie lengthways into slices about 1cm thick. Dip them in the batter and fry away until golden.

Once everything is ready assemble on a plate and serve with plenty of salt and vinegar. I also salvage any batter “scraps” from the fryer and put them at the side as an extra treat. 

I don’t bother with any other condiments but my bairns insist on tomato ketchup and I know others who won’t eat fried fish without tartare sauce. I prefer to keep it simple. Simple and delicious.

P.S. The fryer also makes fantastic French fries which are amazing dipped in mayonnaise and washed down with Belgian beer. The fries also go well with a big pot of mussels, but I’ve written enough for now so describing that delight will have to wait.

Food photos: Adam Civico. Adam Civico photo: Brian Gray 

 

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