Few foods rival the iconic status of oatcakes in the traditional Scottish diet. Making them for myself has recently become an aim of mine through which I have learnt that while the various traditional recipes are simple enough their execution is rather more of an art requiring experience if a well made oatcake is to be guaranteed to result.
The current recipe I am using comes from a traditional recipe found in Scottish Cookery and The Scots Kitchen. The oatmeal used needs to be a traditional fine oatmeal, sometimes a rare sight now, and not any kind of instant oatmeal or rolled oats. My favorite is from the Oatmeal of Alford, local to Aberdeenshire and traditionally kilned and stone ground oatmeal that has the best flavour of any oatmeal I have tasted.
The addition of seaweed to these oatcakes was inspired by Fiona Bird at SEAWEED NA MARA , helpfully her oatcake recipe was very similar to the one I was already using minus the seaweed. I happened to be looking for a use for some fresh sea grass in my freezer from Just Seaweed that I had been wondering what to do with since September. Sea grass (Ulva intestinalis),also known as sea garmon or gutweed, is a small bright green seaweed found growing all around the coasts of the British Isles. Although apparently not traditionally eaten in Scotland, at least it is not mentioned in the books I have, it is apparently cultivated in Japan. The fine green strands of this seaweed add an appealing pattern to the finished oatcakes. I have also made the same recipe with dulse, which requires a short soak in boiling water to soften it and then tends to break up into tiny purple flakes when mixing into the oat cakes.
- 4 ounces or 110 grams of fine oatmeal
- 1 tablespoon of melted fat (I used lamb dripping)
- pinch of salt
- pinch of bicarbonate of soda
- Boiling water, about 1 ounce or 30 grams
- Optional – 2 tablespoons of seaweed (fresh or rehydrated)
- Extra oatmeal for dusting
- In a bowl mix the oatmeal, salt and bicarbonate of soda. Chop the seaweed and add with the melted fat to an ounce of boiling water and stir together. Pour this immediately into the oatmeal.
Using boiling water and hot fat means the dough stays softer and makes it easier to work with. When using fresh seaweed like sea grass I rinsed it briefly before chopping with scissors. If using dried seaweed, such as dulse, I wash and mix with boiling water for a couple of minutes to soften, drain and then add to the recipe. For the fat in the recipe In Scottish Cookery Catherine Brown recommends that bacon fat, beef or lamb dripping are preferred for a traditional oatcake.
- Work the water and fat thoroughly into the oatmeal. Once this has combined into a dough use your hands to form into a ball and then press flat into a disk. Rubbing your hands with oatmeal helps to prevent it sticking to you. Place the dough onto a wooden board spread with some extra oatmeal and press into a rough disk.
The dough does not require needing, rather firmly pressing it into shape. Work relatively quickly as the dough is easier to work while it is still warm.
- Sprinkle a little more oatmeal on top and carefully roll the dough out into a thin disk using a rolling pin.
The rolling out is the most tricky part of this recipe. While rolling the edges tend to crack and crumble so keep pressing the edges in with your fingers as you roll it out, this also helps keep a roughly circular shape. You can then use a plate to cut around to produce a perfect circle however I am happy with a rough and ready circle produced by rolling.
- Using a sharp knife cut the oatcake into triangles and carefully life off the board onto a hot griddle or heavy frying pan.
Oatcakes were often traditionally cut into four called farls, although I find six or eight pieces to be more manageable. The tip of a sharp knife under the edge can aid lifting the farls from the board, which should not stick if enough oatmeal has been spread across it before rolling.
- Turn them over once the oatcakes are cooked on one side after about five to ten minutes.
The oatcakes need to be turned when the underside has turned a paler color but before they start to brown as they can quickly burn at that point.
- Cook the oatcakes for another five to ten minutes.
The corners of the oatcakes will curl up a little as they dry out. Once cooked I take the griddle off the heat and let the residual warmth dry out the last of moisture for a few minutes to crisp them up.
The oatcakes can then be eaten and are excellent to eat while still warm. If keeping to the next day I find an old tradition of mixing the oatcakes with some fresh fine oatmeal helps to keep them fresh. Putting the oatcakes on their own in a tight fitting container with a heaped tablespoon of oatmeal keeps them crisp, the oatmeal soaking any extra moisture.