How to cook a traditional Icelandic Christmas meal

For most Icelanders the smell of hangikjöt (hanged meat / smoked lamb) is a pleasant reminder of Christmas. Although hangikjöt is mostly associated with the Holidays it can also be found in an Icelandic midwinter festival known as Þorri celebrated after the middle of January. Besides this, hangikjöt is served thinly sliced with both regular bread and flatbread, all year round.
Why not use the opportunity to take some of Iceland to your home and give your friends and relatives a chance to taste and smell this Icelandic delicacy? We’ll show you how.

Text: Guðrún Vaka Helgadóttir
Recipes: Gestgjafinn culinary magazine / Chef Úlfar Finnbjörnsson
Photos: Gunnar Þór Andrésson

Icelandic hangikjöt with all the trimmings

2-2.5 kg roll of smoked lamb or smoked thigh of lamb (hangikjöt or hangilæri)
1 l apple cider or apple juice
2 tbsp. apple syrup

Put the smoked meat, cider and syrup in a large saucepan and fill it with water until the meat is submerged. You can also use just water (the cider does not change the taste of the meat but the broth will be absolutely delicious this way). Bring to a boil and let simmer on low heat for 40 min.

Take the pan off the stove and let it stand for 20 min. Now the meat is ready to serve hot or cold with caramelised or regular potatoes, red cabbage, white sauce and green peas and, if possible, leaf bread (laufabrauð). The best drinks to serve with hangikjöt are Christmas ale or a blend of malt extract and orange soda (available in all Icelandic grocery stores) or, if neither is attainable, a good beer.

Leftovers can be served cold and thinly sliced with bread or you can use the apple cider broth and make a delicious soup. Use 1 l of the broth and heat in a saucepan along with 1 chopped fennel and boil for 5 min. Add 1 chopped apple and 200 g of the smoked meat, diced, into the saucepan along with 2 tablespoons of chopped coriander. Serve with sliced baguette.

Uppstúfur (white sauce):

2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. flour
350 ml milk
½ tsp. salt
1/3 tsp. pepper
¼ tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. sugar (optional)

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add flour and mix well until the flour and butter resemble dough. Pour the milk in gradually, whisking constantly until all the milk has gone into the saucepan. Let simmer on low heat for 5 min. whisking regularly. Add salt, pepper, nutmeg and sugar to taste.
This sauce is always served hot, even if the hangikjöt is served cold.

Sugared potatoes:
200 ml sugar
2 tbsp. lemon juice
40 g butter
1 kg boiled potatoes, peeled

Pour sugar and juice into a large frying pan; blend well. Heat the pan and stir until the sugar turns golden brown. Lower the heat, add butter and melt together. Strain all water from the potatoes and add them to the melted sugar. Mix thoroughly without breaking the potatoes and let simmer on low heat for 3-4 min.

Homemade red cabbage:
1 head of red cabbage, about 1 kg
1 apple
50-75 g butter
1 tsp. salt
3 cloves
4 peppercorns
½ tsp. ground pepper
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 tbsp. raspberry jam
1 dl raspberry juice
0.5 l water

Chop red cabbage and apple into small pieces. Melt the butter in a large saucepan and simmer the cabbage and apple for a few minutes. Add salt, spices, vinegar, jam, juice and water and let simmer under a lid for 45 min. or until the cabbage is soft, stirring occasionally. Put cloves and peppercorns into a closed gauze for easy removal. Add water if necessary.
Red cabbage can also be bought ready-made in most supermarkets in Iceland. Then all you have to do is heat it up.