Let it never be said that we don’t listen to our readers.
In my most recent column, Soup for the Land Wights, I recounted my annual December ritual of inviting friends over to share in a pot of the Icelandic lamb stew, kjötsúpa. While I was pleased to see that most readers seemed to enjoy the column, several pointed out a glaring omission: where was the recipe? Even the other editors of our esteemed publication chided me for not providing one. [Editorial note from Manny: We did not chide. We lambasted.]Thus, on this Sunday afternoon, nestled into the lull between the winter solstice and the great conflagration of Christmas Day, I hope to correct the error. But first, a citation and a caveat.
First, the citations: my recipe for kjötsúpa is an adaptation from two sources: one version from the cooking blog Diary of a Tomato, and a version from Magnus Nilsson’s voluminous The Nordic Cookbook. (I highly recommend the latter, which is a beautiful tome containing an encyclopedic and unapologetic catalog of the Nordic palate, all described in charming, remorselessly caustic prose. (Nilsson insists that adding a bay leaf or garlic to kjötsúpa is “probably very tasty, but reduces it to any meat soup from anywhere.”)
Now the caveat: my version of kjötsúpa is not a true and authentic rendition of the dish, first because I am an American with no Icelandic heritage to my knowledge, and a properly authentic kjötsúpa would be steeped in the specific ingredients native to Iceland and the knowledge and traditions passed down from one Icelandic cook to another, and second, because every freakin’ year I manage to forget to order the villikyrdd herb mix the recipe calls for until four days before the Feast of Egill. As a result, my kjötsúpa does not use authentic Icelandic herbs like arctic thyme, birch leaves, and bog bilberry, but instead uses things like parsley, thyme, and, yes, a bay leaf. I am sorry, Magnus. I call it kjötsúpa, but it could be from anywhere, really.
Alright, onto the recipe!
(feeds a lot of people as a main dish)
- 5 lbs lamb meat
- 4 medium-sized rutabagas, peeled and chunked
- 3 medium-to-large sized onions, diced
- 6 large potatoes, peeled and chunked
- 1 lb carrots, chopped
- 2 cups of shredded cabbage
- 4 tablespoons of dried herbs
- A handful of barley
- Salt and pepper
Notes on ingredients: most recipes say it’s better if the lamb meat has some bone on it, but I’ve always used a boneless leg of lamb and there haven’t been any complaints. Magnus Nilsson’s recipe calls for waxy potatoes, but I don’t tend to keep those around – either way, you need about two pounds of potatoes. The herbs, as I said above, really should be Icelandic villikrydd, but it tastes fine with more readily-available herbs too.
Trim the fat from the meat and cut it into pieces. A rule for this recipe is that all the meat and root vegetables should be cut to the size that each piece comfortably fits into a soup spoon by itself – cut things into generous chunks. Put the meat into a large pot, cover it with water, salt it, and then bring it to a boil. Skim the liquid, then add onion, herbs, pepper, and further salt to taste. Let it simmer, partly covered, for an hour.
While the soup is simmering, cut up the vegetables. This process probably involves Googling “how to cut a rutabaga,” unless you are really into rutabagas. When the hour is up, skim the soup again and then add the root vegetables. Simmer for another 15 minutes, then add the cabbage and the barley, and let it simmer for another 10 minutes. Add water if necessary and adjust the seasonings if desired.
I always serve the soup immediately, as suggested by Magnus Nilsson and my own perpetual procrastination, but some recipes suggest making it the day before so the flavors can develop.
Bonus Recipe: Manny Tejeda-Moreno’s Skyr
When I told The Wild Hunt’s Editor-in-Chief Manny Tejeda-Moreno about posting my kjötsúpa recipe, he chimed in with his own recipe for an appropriate dessert: skyr, an Icelandic yogurt. Several brands of skyr are available in American grocery stores now, but making it oneself is the next best thing to eating it in Iceland. Turning this over to Manny now:
Warning! Skyr is not hard to make, but you have to want to do it. It takes time and you must be cautious to avoid contamination. If you want skyr tomorrow, you must start last night. Plan ahead!
This is also a thick skyr, not the weirdly liquid sour version that is available to the US public for reasons unknown.
Tools up first:
- Reliable Food Thermometer – Do not proceed without this.
- Cheesecloth or fine mesh bag – You can proceed without this but you’ll need to buy it before you begin the final straining process.
- Metal ladle
- Metal pot (like a pasta pot) with a lid
- Large strainer or mesh colander
- Measuring cup
- A beach towel
- 1 gallon of Milk (3.75L)
I prefer whole. Others say “non-fat,” but I don’t know what that word means.
Vegetable sourced or animal sourced are both fine. This can be hard to find but there are cheese-making resources available on the internet. The rennet strength varies by source. You will need four drops of vegetable rennet or seven drops of animal rennet.
You can purchase inoculant bacteria but it is just easier to go pick up some plain yogurt with live active bacteria. I find that the plain Greek yogurt works fine. You can also purchase some plain skyr and use that as the starter.
- Fill your pot with water. Place the ladle in the pot, then cover with the lid and bring to boil for 5 minutes. (Leave the ladle in even if it keeps the lid from closing. This is to sterilize your equipment. You can sterilize the measuring cup by adding some of the boiling hot water to it.)
- Pitch the water and add the milk. Set your burner to low-medium and bring the milk to 190F/88C. You will want to stir with the ladle to avoid scalding.
- Once your milk reaches temperature, remove it from the heat and let it sit at room temperature. Check it every five minutes or so until it reaches 110F/43C.
- When it reaches 110F/43C, mix the starter. I suggest you mix the starter with a couple of ladles of the milk to mix together in the measuring cup. Add the starter to the milk.
- In the measuring cup, add some warm water – about a quarter cup (60ml) – and the drops of rennet. NOTE: Rennet is only active for about 30 minutes, so do not do this step beforehand. Add the rennet to the milk and stir.
- Place the lid on the pot and wrap in the beach towel – this will help it keep warm. Place it in a draft-free location. You can also place it in an oven, or even a cooler.
- Wait 12 hours.
- Strain the skyr by ladling it into a cheesecloth-covered strainer or colander. Place a drip tray or pot underneath to catch the liquid. Then place the whole contraption into the refrigerator.
- The skyr will thicken in the refrigerator as it strains. You can let it go to your liking, but it should be ready in about four hours – overnight is even better.
- Store the skyr in a sealed container. It should keep for about three weeks. I like it with honey. (Eric’s note: I’m all about blueberries in skyr.)
- The length of fermentation is related to sourness. If you prefer a less sour product, just stop fermentation earlier.
- Speaking of which, make sure you plan so that you are available at the end of the 12 hours. Do not let this product ferment much beyond 12 hours.
- A yogurt-maker really helps with this.
- Yes, you can do this in an InstantPot. Just follow the yogurt process but with this recipe.
- IMPORTANT: Remember that this is a fermented product and you must be extremely attentive to contamination.
May the blessings of the season be with you, and may your ladle never be contaminated. Happy Holidays!