It is true that the Dutch consume tens of millions of the raw, salty delicacy each year: the “maatjes” herring. Fish expert Peter Koelewijn explained that the quality of the maatje is excellent this year. He was sampling the new arrivals at a symbolic auction site. Thousands of Dutch are expected to descend on Scheveningen beach on Saturday to celebrate the 2009 maatje season.
According to Koelewijn the herrings could grow well because the sea is rich in plankton thanks to the good weather they have enjoyed in recent weeks. It is told that “maatje”, derived from the Dutch word for virginal but also known as the Hollandse Nieuwe, is fished in the North Sea for just over a month every year from the end of May to the beginning of July.
Nico de Jong, director of the Dutch Herring Wholesale Association, opined that the fish only qualify for the maatje tag in the short period that they’ve become fat and tender enough but before they start reproducing and developing roe. It is told that the hand-sized maatje is prepared to a unique Dutch recipe: gutted and cleaned straight from the net with only the pancreas left intact to provide the enzymes needed for curing. They are salted in a barrel for one to four days, depending on their size, and are then frozen to stop further maturation.
It is informed that the fish are traditionally eaten held by the tail with the consumer tilting his head back and chomping away. Some put the fish on a bread roll with finely diced onion, though this practice is frowned upon by connoisseurs. In 2009, the EU-imposed herring fishing quota dropped 15 percent from last year to 171,000 tons, of which 45,000 tons for the Netherlands.