Fårikål, Norway's National Dish
Most countries have a national dish, or at least a dish they are most famous for, but Norway has taken this to a level with a formally recognised national dish and even a day when it is celebrated and eaten. Fårikålensdag (fårikål day) is always celebrated on the last Thursday in September.
Come the middle of September, the shops in Norway begin to fill up with crisp heads of cabbage and the special cuts of lamb and mutton that are needed to make fårikål.
I have to admit, the first time I heard of fårikål I did not rush to the front of the queue to try it. I'm a massive fan of simple dishes that celebrate a few really good ingredients and allow them to shine in their own right, but I wasn't onboard with fårikål. Fårikål is a dish of just 4 ingredients; lamb or mutton, cabbage, water and peppercorns. Salt is really up to you. The lamb and cabbage are layered up in a casserole dish and cooked slowly over several hours. It's the very epitome of simplicity and what you have at the end is a steaming plate of rich, delicious, soul warming food to satisfy the appetites of Norwegians far and wide.
However, after my first taste of fårikål I was completely sold and as soon as fårikål meat appears in the shops I am making it. It freezes very well, so I take the opportunity to make big batches and freeze it ahead of the winter for quick easy homemade ready meals when we need something simple and warming in the coldest season.
You will find lots of fårikål recipes (some with very non-traditional ingredients added) and every Norwegian cookbook will have it's own version, but there is no great science in it and I like to think that in it's simplest form we are paying tribute to all the cooks who have gone before us over the hundreds of years enjoying fårikål from the Royal palace to the simplest remote farm.
You can choose to use either lamb or mutton depending on how strong you like the taste to be but the cut should be from the leg or shoulder. The cabbage that is traditionally used is the hard white cabbage that is at it's best at this time of year. If you can't get that choose a firm cabbage with a close texture that won't fall apart when it's cooked. I have given amounts for 4 servings, but if you want to scale up the amounts simply use the same weight of lamb to cabbage.
Fårikål, serves 4 hungry people
1 kg / 2.2 lb lamb or mutton cut into portion sized pieces
1 kg / 2.2 lb cabbage
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
35 g / 1.5 oz plain all purpose flour
Preheat the oven to 150C / 300F
You will need an deep oven proof casserole dish with a lid (or you can cover with foil if you have no lid).
Cut the cabbage in wedges that are about the same size as the lamb or mutton pieces. Starting with the cabbage, place a layer of the cabbage wedges in the bottom of the casserole dish, followed by a layer of the lamb pieces. Sprinkle with half the peppercorns and season well with salt. Repeat the layers and the seasoning. Cover with cold water just up to the top layer but not over it. Place the lid on, or cover with foil and bake in the oven for about 2 hours. The time it takes to cook will depend on your oven and how tender the meat is, so be prepared for it to take a little longer than I suggest. When the fårikål is cooked it will have a rich smell, the meat will be tender and falling off the bones and the cabbage will be deliciously soft. Remove from the oven and gently move the meat and cabbage to one side to give you access to the broth. Sprinkle in the flour and give it a stir and return to the oven for another 20 minutes. The broth should be slightly thickened.
Serve piping hot with some simple boiled potatoes or classic Nordic polarbrød (you can grab the recipe here) for the best in Norwegian comfort food.
Vær så god!
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