No Icelandic Christmas is complete without hangikjöt, or smoked lamb. It is traditionally served on Christmas Day with potatoes, green peas, red cabbage and a Béchamel sauce (also called “white sauce”). While the meat is readily available at the grocery store, some Icelanders still slaughter and smoke their own.
Þórhildur Þorsteinsdóttir’s family has been doing it for more than 50 years at their smokehouse in Sauðárkrókur in the north of Iceland. She says they smoke the lamb’s legs, upper body, and sometimes its spine. They salt the meat in a barrel for 10 to 12 days, and then take it out and dry it for 12 hours before hanging it in the smokehouse. Her family uses Icelandic birch and dried sheep’s dung to smoke the meat, and the smoking process takes around 14 days. After smoking, the lamb is boiled and then served cold.
For those interested in buying straight from the farmer, check beintfrabyli.is/byli (note: the site is in Icelandic!). Otherwise, head to a store like Frú Lauga (Laugalæk 6, 105 Reykjavík), which sells a variety of types of hangikjöt, including some that you can eat raw.
The White Sauce
If you’ve got your hangikjöt and all your sides in order, try your hand at making the traditional white sauce that is served over the meat. This recipe is courtesy of Hraunsnef Country Hotel in Borgarbyggð:
75 gr butter
1 dl white wheat
7 dl l milk
1 dl cream
2-3 tbs sugar
1/2 tsp salt
A dash white pepper
A dash nutmeg
Method: Melt the butter in a pan on low temperature. Add the wheat and whisk while mixing in the milk. When the sauce has thickened, mix in the cream, sugar, salt, white pepper and nutmeg. If the sauce is too thick, add milk to thin.