Brúnaðar kartöflur – Caramelised potatoes

These are good with any kind of roast meat, especially lamb and pork roast. I don’t like to make them too often, just occasionally.

Potatoes caramelising in the pan:

1 kg cooked potatoes
50 g butter OR margarine
50 g sugar

If you need to convert the measures, see link on the right.

The potatoes should preferably be cold, but it is not necessary. They should be small and even in size. If they are big, cut into smaller pieces (about bite-size), flush with water and pat dry. Put the sugar in a medium hot frying pan. When it starts to brown, add the butter and stir to mix. Lower temperature and add potatoes. Roll the potatoes around to coat evenly. The caramel covering should be soft and light brown. If it is dark and hard, the sugar syrup was too hot. This can be fixed by removing the left-over sugar from the pan and returning the potatoes to the pan with a little water. Roll them around and allow the boiling water to soften the caramel shell.
Serve hot, for example with roast or ham.

Ready to serve:

Beware of canned pre-cooked potatoes. I once tried caramelising some canned potatoes which turned out to be full of water which made them explode when it boiled. I was showered with burning hot sugar syrup from the pan and got 2nd and 3rd degree burns on my hand and my face where the syrup droplets landed.

Icelandic cocktail sauce – Kokkteilsósa

Every nation has its favourite condiment to use with French fries. The British use vinegar and the Americans ketchup, but the favoured condiment in Iceland is cocktail cauce. This versatile pink goo is also good with deep-fried or broiled chicken, hot dogs, grilled sausages and fried fish.

I have watched in amusement as Icelanders abroad tried to make cocktail sauce from salad cream and ketchup because they could not imagine eating fries without it.

The most basic recipe calls for mayonnaise and ketchup, but this one is a little more refined ;-)

Take 200 gr. sour cream or 100 gr. sour cream and 100 gr. mayonnaise and stir until smooth. If you are using both mayo and cream, stir separately and then mix. This is important and will help you avoid lumps in the sauce.
Add approx. 3 tbs ketchup.
Finally, add 1/2-1 tsp sweet mustard.

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You can make cocktail sauce in a blender, in which case you just dump everything in at once and mix on high until smooth.

-For simple cocktail sauce, use mayonnaise and add enough ketchup to turn it pink. Add a bit of cream to make it smoother.
-Try it in seafood/shrimp cocktail in place of seafood cocktail sauce.
-When using with fish, I usually mix in a little garlic to add bite to the sauce. Use either powdered or fresh garlic (finely chopped or crushed).
-To make my special hamburger sauce, make as above, using 50/50 mayo and sour cream or just light mayo. Add some finely chopped chives or mixed herbs. If the sauce seems too thick, thin with cream or milk.

Sunnudags-lambasteik – Icelandic Sunday roast

In many Icelandic homes this is the Sunday meal. I like this food a lot, but not every Sunday! Some families also serve roast lamb for Christmas.

Take one leg of lamb with bone (approx. 1 1/2 kg.). Wash under running cold water and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper. I also like to use Aromat (flavour enhancer), Season-All, garlic and coriander. Quarter an onion and put in a roasting pan with the meat. It’s also good to put carrots in the pan. For added flavour, rub the meat with the onion before seasoning. Cover and insert into a heated oven (175-200° C.). After about 15-20 minutes, pour in some water to cover the bottom of the pan, and add more water as it evaporates. Baste the meat with the cooking juices. The roast should stay in the oven for about 2 hours. After about 1 1/2 hours, take the roast out and pour off the cooking liquid. Return to the oven without covering, to brown. Use the cooking liquid to make the sauce (see recipe below).

Alternative method:
If you have enough time, slow-roast the meat. Treat as above, cover and insert into a 200° C. oven. Lower heat immediately to about 125°C. Allow to brown and add water. Slow roast at 125°C for 1 hour, then turn up the heat to 150°C and roast for another hour. Turn up the heat to 175°C and roast for a third hour. Pour off the liquid and put uncovered into a 200°C oven to brown. Icelandic lamb is very tender, and this slow cooking method makes it so soft that it almost melts off the bone, while still retaining the flavour.

Sauce to serve with Sunday roast:
Pour the cooking liquid through a strainer. Put the onions in the strainer and mash into the liquid. Skim off the fat. Heat to boiling. Mix together some water and flour into a smooth, thin paste. When the liquid boils, add the flour paste, stirring constantly, until sauce begins to thicken. Stir well to mix. Strain if the sauce is lumpy (sift the flour to avoid this). Heat to boiling again, and add some cream (not strictly necessary, but improves the flavour and smoothness). Adjust the flavour with salt/spices if necessary.

For an authentic Icelandic Sunday roast, serve with the sauce on the side, boiled or caramelized potatoes, green peas and rhubarb jam. For my part, I like to leave out the peas and jam and serve instead a fresh salad and some sautéed mushrooms. If you feel like eating anything else after this heavy repast, ice-cream is the favoured dessert. Home-made ice-cream is especially good.

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Icelandic pancakes – Pönnukökur

To me, pancakes always evoke the image of my grandmothers, both of whom are expert pancake makers, and will whip up a batch at a moments’ notice. These pancakes are quick and (fairly) easy to make, and how you serve them depends on the occasion. Rolled up with sugar, they make an excellent addition to afternoon tea (or coffee, depending on your preferences). Spread with jam and folded up with whipped cream, they are a delicacy fit for festive occasions. This recipe comes from my maternal grandmother.

This “recipe” is only a guideline to help first time pancake-makers along. As you become more fluent in pancake-making, you will probably develop your own “dash-of-this, a-little-of-that” recipe, as I have.

1 cup flour
1 medium egg (the original calls for two eggs – I prefer to use just one)
dash of baking soda
a dash of baking powder
100 grams margarine/butter, or equivalent amount of cooking oil
milk, as needed.
These are the basic ingredients. I also add about a tsp of one of the following: essence of cardamom, lemon juice/lemon essence, or vanilla essence.

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Melt the margarine or butter in a skillet or Icelandic pancake pan. Allow to cool slightly. Mix up the dry ingredients and add some milk to make a thin batter. Add the egg(s) and stir well. Add the margarine/butter (don’t wipe or wash the skillet after poring off the fat). Cooling the fat is important, because if it is too hot, the egg(s) will curdle and make lumps in the dough. If you are using oil, don’t heat it, just pour straight into the batter, and wipe a bit of oil onto the pan to grease it. Experiment with the thickness of the dough.

Heat the skillet over high heat and lower to medium. Pour on a portion of the dough, just enough to cover the pan (this is a skill that will come with practice), and roll the pan around in a circle to spread the dough over it. When the edges begin to lift from the pan and the underside is golden brown, turn over and fry the other side.

A properly seasoned pan should be almost non-stick, but if you are using a freshly seasoned pan, you may need to add a little oil to the pan after every few pancakes, to prevent sticking.

The pancakes should be thin – a proper Icelandic pancake is only about a couple of millimetres thick. Stack the pancakes on a plate and sprinkle some sugar on top of each pancake to prevent them from sticking together. These pancakes can be frozen and re-heated in a microwave oven.

An Icelandic pancake pan, with pancake. This is basically a round skillet with a thick bottom. The thick bottom is necessary, since the pancakes must be fried quickly at a relatively high temperature.

Serving suggestions:

  • Sprinkle with sugar and roll up, eat and enjoy – either warm or cold. Jam or jelly, especially rhubarb jam, blueberry or strawberry jam, is also excellent on rolled pancakes. 
  • Stack the pancakes, spreading jam on top of each one. Cut into wedges and serve like a cake, with whipped cream .
  • Make cream pancakes.

To make cream pancakes:
Cover the centre of each pancake with your favourite jam or jelly, add a couple of tablespoons of whipped cream (pancakes must be cold), fold in half, and again in half. You should now have a big puffy wedge. Especially good served with hot cocoa.

Easy Icelandic fish casserole – Ofnsteiktur fiskur með lauk og osti

This is a simple, easy, nourishing dish.

400 g fish fillets (I use cod or haddock, but it would be good using flounder or sole), boned and skinned
1/2 tsp salt
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tbs bread crumbs
2 tbs cheese, grated
25 g butter

Cut the fish into chunks and arrange in a greased casserole. Add salt. Sprinkle chopped onion over the fish. Sprinkle bread crumbs and cheese on top, and dot with small pieces of butter. Bake at 175-200°C for 20-30 minutes. Serve with cooked potatoes and a salad.

Put the salted fish in the casserole with the chopped onion and butter. Bake for 8-10 minutes at 175°C. In the meantime, mix together:

50 ml Cream
100 ml Milk
1 tbs Breadcrumbs
2 tbs grated cheese

Pour over the fish and continue baking for 15 minutes.

Can also be made in a microwave oven. Adjust cooking time accordingly.

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Rúgbrauð – Icelandic Rye bread

This is the last of the Þorri recipes.

Rúgbrauð is great topped with butter and cheese, or with home-made lamb pâté (recipe will be posted later). Serve it well buttered on the side with poached fish, or Danish style with cold pickled herring (recipe will be posted later). Eat it with sliced hangikjöt or ham or spread it with cream cheese, and if there is anything left, use it to make bread soup (recipe will be posted later).

600 g sugar
400 g whole wheat flour
2 kg rye flour
1 tsp salt
50 g dry yeast
1,5 l milk

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Mix the ingredients together and knead well.

To cook in used milk-cartons:
Half-fill each 1 liter carton, pressing well to avoid air bubbles in the bread. Stand on the bottom of the oven and bake at 100°C for about 12 hours.

To cook in loaf pans:
Press the dough into tins/bread pans and stand in an oven-pan, half-filled with boiling water. Bake as above, adding extra water whenever necessary. This method is called seyðing, which translates as “slow-boiling”.

One type of rúgbrauð is called hverabrauð, or “hot-spring-bread”. This is bread that has been cooked in a hot spring, or buried in sand/mud at the edge of a hot spring and allowed to cook there.

Icelandic flat bread – Flatbrauð

Yet another food you are likely to find on the Þorri buffet.

This traditional bread is delicious with butter and a slice of hangikjöt (smoked lamb).

500 g rye flour
1/2 tsp salt
250-300 ml boiling water

Mix the salt and the rye flour. Add some water and knead. Dough should be fairly soft. Roll out thin and use a small plate to cut even sized breads. Prick all over with a fork and bake on top of the stove at medium to high temperature. For authenticity, do not use a griddle or skillet, but put the cakes directly onto the cooking plate (this is both smelly and smoky). Cook on one side until it begins to look dry, then turn over. The bread should have some slight burn spots here and there.
Good with slices of cold meat, such as hangikjöt, ham, or lamb pâté, and delicious slathered with butter.

Someone contacted me with a couple of tips for making flat bread:
-If you make the flat bread in the traditional way, there will be smoke – so do it in a well ventilated area.
-To avoid the breads getting hard, dip them quickly in hot water when you remove them from the pan/hot plate.

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Svið & sviðasulta – Icelandic singed sheep’s heads & brawn

Continuing with the Þorri food, here is a popular Þorri dish, one that is also widely eaten outside the Þorri season.

Sheep’s head jam is a traditional meat product that can be found in any Icelandic supermarket. It is usually eaten fresh, but during the Þorri season you can also get whey-pickled head jam. There is also a pig’s head version, svínasulta, which is spiced. This variety food is known as head-cheese or brawn in English.

Some recipes include gelatine, but it is generally not necessary if the cooking liquid is allowed to thicken during cooking (by not adding water unless it seems to be completely evaporating).

6 ea. sheep’s heads, singed (see instructions below)
as needed water and salt

How to singe and otherwise prepare sheep’s heads for cooking:
Take the fresh heads and singe them with fire until all the hair is burnt. Use a stiff brush to clean the heads under running cold water. Clean the area around the eyes and inside the ears especially well. Saw the heads in half lengthwise and remove the brains (less messy if you freeze them first). Cook them with the skin on.

Pack the heads into a cooking pot, sprinkle with coarse salt and add water. It’s not necessary to let the water cover the heads completely. When the water boils, skim off the scum. Cook, covered, until the flesh begins to separate from the bones, 90-120 minutes at the least if the heads are meant for jam. Heads that will be eaten without further preparation generally need only 60 – 90 minutes cooking, and should only be cooked until the flesh is cooked through, but has not started to separate from the bones.

To make the jam:
When the heads are cooked, remove from the cooking liquid. Heads that will not be made into brawn are put on a platter and served right away, or allowed to cool and served cold. Heads that will be made into jam are taken and the meat cut off the bones and into coarse pieces. You can include the skin or leave it out as you wish. Put the pieces in a loaf pan and put a light weight on top. Allow to cool at room temperature and then put it in a refrigerator to set completely. To make more of the jam, include some of the cooking liquid in the mix. The cooking liquid will set better if singed sheep’s legs are cooked with the heads.
When the brawn is set, it can be eaten fresh or preserved in whey.

Serving suggestion:
Sheep’s heads are served either hot or cold. Either way, they are usually served with plain, boiled potatoes, rutabagas ( cooked with the heads) and white sauce. I hear lemon-sauce is also good with sheep’s heads.

Brawn, fresh or preserved, is usually served buffet-style with several other kinds of variety meats, fish, bread and potatoes. Thinly sliced fresh brawn can be used as a topping for bread or a filling for sandwiches. My personal favourite is fresh brawn with potato salad.

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Hangikjöt – Icelandic smoked lamb (instructions)

Still in keeping with the Þorri theme, here is a popular food that is a favourite main dish for Christmas and Sundays, as well as being an essential part of the Þorri buffet.

Hangikjöt is an old favourite of the Icelanders. For centuries, we have smoked, pickled and dried food for preservation, and hangikjöt is one of the most delicious of the smoked products. Much like in olden times, hangikjöt is not an everyday food, except when used as a topping for bread, skonsur and flatbread. It may be eaten either hot or cold, and is traditionally served with cooked potatoes, white (béchamel) sauce, peas and pickled red cabbage. What follows is a description of the old method used for smoking lamb/mutton to make hangikjöt.

Smoking food, general information:
Smoking is an ancient food preservation method, which leaves the food tasting delicious. The smoke dries the food, and contains preservatives which prevent the food from spoiling. All food that is to be smoked must be salted first.

The smoke room:
The best facility for smoking food is a small shed or room with a high ceiling and a chimney. There should be a fireplace in the centre of the floor, and rafters up close to the ceiling for hanging the food. If only a small amount of food is to be smoked, a barrel smoker can be used. This is made by stacking two barrels on top of each other. A small fireplace is made in the bottom one, and the food is hung in the top one. Sometimes the smoke is piped from one barrel to another through a flue. This cools down the smoke and prevents it from cooking the food. The food must never be hung so close to the fire that the heat reaches it.

The smoking materials:
The best smoke comes from wood, especially birch, willow and juniper, but you can also use heather or sawdust. Dried, pressed sheep dung mixed with straw from the floor of the sheep pens is used by some Icelanders, and sometimes dried peat was used.

The fire must be covered to make sure it does not flare up and burn too high. The aim is to get the maximum of smoke with the minimum of fire. The temperature of the smoke as it reaches the food must not be higher than 20-25°C. Smoking times can only be given in approximates, as it depends on the volume of smoke, size of the food pieces and various other factors.

Small pieces can be smoked in a matter of hours in a barrel smoker. Meat should not be smoked for more than 2-3 weeks.

Making Hangikjöt:
Any meat can be smoked, like mutton/lamb, horse, pork, game bird breasts, etc., but only lamb/mutton and horse meat are called hangikjöt. Legs, thighs and sides of lamb are well suited for smoking.

Processing the meat:
Clean the meat well, and pickle in brine #1 for 2-4 days, depending on thickness of the pieces. Allow the brine to drip off the meat before smoking it.

Brine for pickling meat:
20 litres water
10 kg coarse salt
500 g sugar
100 g saltpetre (Note: This is an unhealthful chemical and is no longer used by modern hangikjöt producers).

This recipe may be halved for a smaller amount of brine.

Heat the water to boiling and mix in sugar, salt and saltpetre and cook for 5-10 minutes, or until the salt is melted. Strain and cool the liquid. This brine is strong enough for salting small pieces like rúllupylsa and also for salting meat that will be smoked.

Hang up the meat and start the smoking process. Make sure the fire never dies – the smoking must be constant. Taste check the meat in a week or so – the meat should taste smoky. If the meat is at all slimy to the touch, or has a rancid taste, it is spoiled and must not be eaten. Smoke for another week and taste the meat again. It should be reddish in colour with a pronounced smoky taste. For even smokier taste, give it another week, but no more than that, or it may become too dry.
When the meat is smoked, it should be hung in a cool, dry place. Meat that has been hung for a while is more easily digested than meat that has not been hung. Hangikjöt can be eaten raw, and is excellent served by wrapping thin slices around pieces of melon.

Cooking and serving:
Home-smoked hangikjöt sometimes needs to be salted during cooking, and sometimes not. Taste it raw to evaluate whether or not you need to cook it in salted water. Cook for about 40 minutes for each kilo of meat, less if you cut it up before cooking. When cooked, remove the cooking pot from the stove, and allow the meat to sit in the cooking liquid for about 30 minutes before removing it. This step may be skipped if the meat is to be served hot.

Serve in the traditional way: with potatoes, white sauce, cooked peas (or peas & carrots) and pickled red cabbage. For an authentic Icelandic Christmas meal, serve leaf-bread and butter on the side and drink the Icelandic Christmas mix with it..
Leftovers may be sliced thin and used as a topping for bread, or the meat and potatoes can be diced and added to white sauce along with the peas, warmed up and poured into small pie shells for serving.

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Harðfiskur – Icelandic hard (dried) fish

Continuing with the Þorri theme, here is the single most popular food you will find on the Þorri buffet. It is a popular snack in Iceland, and many people take some with them when they go abroad on holiday.

Of the traditional Icelandic foods, harðfiskur and skyr are probably the two which most appeal to foreigners. I have received several e-mails from people asking how to make harðfiskur or where to buy it abroad, and so I decided it was time to give a description of how it’s made.

Many kinds of fish dry well, but traditionally it is mostly cod, haddock and ocean catfish (wolf-fish) that are dried. Flounder also makes excellent harðfiskur, and in some areas of Iceland people also dry arctic char. 

Drying haddock, cod and flounder:
Wash the fish and scrape off the slime. Gut the fish and remove the head. Haddock and cod can either be butterflied or filleted before drying. Flounder is filleted. If you butterfly the fish, you must take care to keep the fish spread open while it is drying. To hang, cut a small slit through the flesh and skin of the tail end of the fillet, and thread a wooden dowel or a piece of string through it. The fish may be dipped briefly in brine before drying (recommended for flavour and prevention of spoilage during the drying process). Hang out to dry. To properly dry the fish, it should be done outside, in fairly cool (below 10 °C) and dry weather. The fish needs air movement to dry properly, and if it is windy, the wind will keep flies off the fish. Drying time depends on wind, air temperature and humidity.

Butterflied, dried cod’s heads.

When the fish is dry and papery to the touch, it should be ready for eating. Test it by breaking the thickest part of it, and if it breaks easily and is dry all the way through, you can eat it. The fish should now be beaten with a small mallet, a meat hammer or a rolling pin, until it flakes easily and can be torn apart with the hands. Eat it either as it is, or spread with butter.

Drying catfish/wolf-fish:
Ocean catfish (also known as wolf-fish), is fattier than cod or haddock, and needs to be dried faster to avoid spoilage. Fillet the fish and cut the fillet into two or four strips lengthwise, depending on size. Don’t separate each two strips completely, but leave about an inch of the skin uncut. Cut the flesh into 1 1/2 cm. wide strips, taking care not to cut through the skin. Now you have what is known as riklingur in Icelandic. Hang on a wooden dowel and put out to dry. When it is dry, the riklingur can easily be cut into pieces with a pair of scissors, and the flesh can be easily torn from the skin. It is not necessary to beat this fish, unless it is so hard you worry about breaking your teeth on it!

Fish that is dried whole with only the head and guts removed is called skreið (stockfish in English). It dries more slowly and will therefore have a stronger flavour, and it needs to be beaten much more before it is soft enough to eat. Skreið is a popular commodity in some African countries, where it is reconstituted and used in all kinds of dishes.

Mass produced harðfiskur is made by fan or oven drying. It dries faster than wind-dried harðfiskur, and has less flavour.

There is a type of semi-dried fish called siginn fiskur, that has been allowed to hang for a few days until it has dried a bit and the flesh is firm like that of salt fish. It has a strong flavour and some would say it is spoiled, but it is still safe to eat. It is not nearly as pungent as skate, the traditional food eaten two days before Christmas, and which has been allowed to go well and truly rotten (more on that later, or check out the mother site if you can’t wait to read about it.

Siginn fiskur, usually haddock or cod, is traditionally served with plain boiled potatoes and white (béchamel) sauce.