Orkney's distinctive and delicious larder captures the essence of the islands, from locally reared beef and sustainably fished shellfish, to award-winning beers, ice-cream, oatcakes, fudge, cheese, whisky and much more! We've asked local food writer Rosemary Moon to share some of her favourite Orkney ingredients.
Orkney. These remote, windswept and beautiful islands truly are a cook’s paradise.
There are unique Orcadian products and ingredients, and menus around the county showcase the cornucopia of delicious local food and drink. These are my must-try flavours of Orkney.
North Ronaldsay lamb
The lamb is produced on the seaweed covered beaches of Orkney’s most northerly island. Confined to the rocks, the animals grow lean and strong on their marine diet which flavours their dark red meat richly with a marine, herbal tang. The slightly saline notes lift the richness of the meat. Tradition suggests a sauce of Seville oranges: marmalade is a perfect addition to casseroles, gravies and any dishes made with left-overs. Hotels in Orkney often serve North Ronaldsay Lamb Three Ways, usually featuring at least one cut simply slow roasted to showcase the unique flavour of the lamb. I favour casseroles in my kitchen as the long, moist cooking really suits the dense, flavoursome meat.
Find out more - visit the Orkney Sheep Foundation website.
Orkney has long been known for its beef and lamb but now has a herd of water buffalo, producing meat which I describe as gamy beef. Grazed in the island of Stronsay, the buffalo meat is available in various local shops and to order. Is there a traditional way to serve Orkney buffalo? Not yet - but I am working on it, and often serve it to guests as their first meal on Orkney. So far my favourites dishes have been salt brisket, and curries made with the diced shin.
Find out more - visit the Orkney Buffalo website.
Baking is now universally popular and bakers will be delighted to find a unique ingredient to experiment with: Orkney beremeal. This flour, produced in the restored Barony watermill from an ancient strain of barley cultivated in Orkney for centuries, has a sweet, nutty flavour. It adds an extra dimension to any baking. I use around a third beremeal to wheat flour in most of my bread and cakes. Traditionally it is made into a quick scone-like griddle bake known as a bannock. There are many recipes but bannocks are essentially beremeal, usually with some wheat flour, raising agent, and yogurt and/or milk. A piece of bannock with Orkney cream and jam made from Orkney’s abundant rhubarb is a serious challenge to any other cream tea! Many local bakeries produce beremeal products from bread to oatcakes and, of course, the bannocks themselves. If I have any bannock leftover I make it into crumbs for topping fish pies, or dry the crumbs until toasted to add to rich vanilla ice cream with a generous splash of Orcadian whisky.
Find out more - visit the Barony Mills website.
The seas around Orkney are rich in fish and shellfish and there are several varieties to look out for. One is tusk, a white fish of the ling family, cod-like in as much as it has succulent white flesh. Baked or fried, the fillets are wonderful with Orkney’s famous tatties. Scallops are available all year round and appear on most restaurant menus. Hand-dived, the pearls of creamy white flesh with bright orange corals attached are most usually pan fried. A typical Orcadian way of serving scallops is with delicious local black pudding or sautéed bacon. I love to serve scallops with a brightly flavoured and coloured salsa and often add grapefruit or orange, which brings out the sweet creaminess of the flesh.
Smoked mussels are not unique to Orkney but perhaps the chance to be able to buy them two ways is? There are very lightly smoked mussels, pale pink in colour, which I love to add to fish stews and soups, or to creamy pasta dishes or salads. The heavier smoked mussels are dark and almost bacon-like in colour and flavour. They are wonderful added to salads, either leafy green mixes or more robust grain or quinoa bases. Whether the milder or deeper smoke appeals to you, both turn any dish into something special.
Find out more - visit the Orkney Fishermen's Society website.
Finally, in the grand tradition of celebratory meals, the Clootie Dumpling is a great favourite here in Orkney, as it is across Scotland. A ball shaped spiced fruit pudding that is boiled in a cloth and served on high days and holidays, the clootie dumpling provides a perfect challenge for the keen parish bakers and cooks in Orkney. The Orkney Archive, housed at the Library famous across the world for its Twitter account, contains many recipes from SWI’s (Scottish Women’s Institutes) across the county, all of which seem to have their own take on the spicing or fruits, and whether to include breadcrumbs or not. The dumpling is boiled in a ‘cloot’, a cloth strip or bag, but a scalded pillow case works well too. Once scalded, the cloot must be generously dusted with flour which forms the crust on the pudding as it cooks: Orkney’s beremeal is perfect for this.
That’s just a small sample of the delicious foods awaiting you in Orkney: what are you looking forward to trying first?
Rosemary Moon is a member and past Chair of The Guild of Food Writers. Visit her website and her blog on Orkney's larder. You can also follow Rosemary on Twitter.