Kjötsúpa – Icelandic Lamb Soup
You want a meat-a soup-a?
The Icelandic meat soup is a classic and could top the “national dish” competition if there ever was one. It’s usually something you cook on the first day of snow in July, just kidding, in September. It gives you a warm hug to the heart when you notice that fact that your summer vacation is long over, and the days are getting shorter. You need it.
Kjötsúpa, literal translation meat soup, should, in fact, be called lamb soup since lamb is the only meat used in the soup. So why isn’t it called lamb soup? Well because for centuries lamb was the far more common meat to eat in Iceland. So meat used to be synonymous with lamb. (just like fish meant haddock)
Let’s talk about you and meeee
In Icelandic sheep goes meee not baaa
Sheep settled Iceland around 1000 years ago, bringing with them horses, humans and chicken. The sheep are of Scandinavian stock and, perhaps, unlike sheep in your home country can be recognized by their short feet and lack of wool on their legs and face. They shave. They’re known for their daredevil antics such as crossing roads just before a car passes by and getting stuck high up in the mountains.
They want to be free to do want they want to do
Unlike many other animals raised for their meat, they spend a considerable amount of the year pasturing free in valleys and mountains. They are kept in barns during the winter, though. Don’t worry. Sheep is gathered around during the fall, in spectacular fashion, where farmers pick out their sheep, some go to the farm for the winter but some go the slaughterhouse.
The long grazing period and the fact they go straight to the slaughterhouse afterwards means that the lamb has “marinated itself.” Icelandic lamb is also quite young when slaughtered meaning that its flavour is more subtle and the meat more tender than in many other places. Icelanders love to brag about having a great tasting lamb, though we’re sure there are many other places claiming the same, like New Zealand.
For kjötsúpa (meat soup) we’ll be using súpukjöt (soup meat). It’s named “súpukjöt” and can be bought either fresh or frozen. It’s usually the shoulder of the lamb, cut-down, bone-in. It used to be quite a fancy dish eaten on Sundays, even though it uses parts that are cheaper than the leg and loins.
The vegetables are the ones that can be grown everywhere in Iceland outdoors; carrots, potatoes, onions and swedes (or rutabaga, hello Americans). “Soup herbs” flavours the soup. Dried parsnips, carrots and leeks, cut small so it kind of looks like fresh herbs. It makes us feel continental.
Chuck in a pot with water and boil it for an hour or so, voila you got yourself an Icelandic meat soup.
- Lamb shoulder 1 kg. (or stewing meat)
- 300 gr. carrots
- 1 swede (rutabaga)
- ½ head cabbage
- 1 large onion
- 1 L vegetable stock.
- Enough water to cover the lamb.
- Salt and black pepper to taste.
It’s important to note that this is a basic lamb soup recipe. There are as many ways of doing it as there are homes in Iceland. This recipe forms a great starting point for you on your Kjötsúpu-journey.
If you have lamb shoulder, prepare it by trimming away any silverskin and extra fat, and then cutting it into just over bite-size pieces. Transfer the meat into your favourite stewing pot, cover with water and season liberally with salt (we used three big pinches of flaky sea salt).
While the water’s coming up to temperature prepare the vegetables; peel them and cut into nice chunky pieces. Except for the onion, you want to dice that quite finely.
Keep an eye on the meat, and as it reaches simmering, make try and capture some of the scum from the surface (this promotes a cleaner soup). Let the meat simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the meat, or until reaching tender.
Gjörið svo vel.