Updating Norway’s national dish: fårikål
Norwegian lamb in cabbage is brightened up with a splash of wine and vinegar
Christy Olsen Field
Taste of Norway Editor
Fårikål, or lamb in cabbage, is one of Norway’s favorite dishes. Its roots come from Denmark, and it became a classic in Norway in the 20th century. Fårikål even has its own national day celebrated on the last Thursday of September.
The recipe couldn’t be simpler: pieces of lamb are layered in a pot with wedges of green cabbage and peppercorns and simmered until tender.
Nevada Berg, author of the excellent North Wild Kitchen writes: “Fårikål is beloved, perhaps because the ingredients so perfectly represent Norway’s bounty. There’s lamb from the mountains, potatoes just harvested from the fields, and fresh cabbage that grows all summer. Together, they form a little piece of Norway.”
In 1972, Norwegians voted fårikål as Norway’s National Dish on the NRK program Nitimen.
In 2014, Minister of Agriculture and Food Sylvi Listhaug launched a competition to name the new national dish of Norway. It was the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian constitution, and Listhaug felt it was a good time for reflection on Norwegian food preferences. The competition stirred up quite a bit of controversy (and even calls for Listhaug’s resignation).
To qualify for competition, the dish’s main ingredients had to be sourced in Norway.
The public opinion poll was conducted by Ipsos MMI, and once again, fårikål was named Norway’s national dish, winning 45% of the vote.
The runners-up include kjøttkaker (meat cakes), raspeballer (potato dumplings with salt pork), and pinnekjøtt (lamb ribs boiled and then roasted in the oven).
Fårikål won the popular vote in all portions of Norway except along the west coast, where pinnekjøtt reigned supreme.
I’ll admit, fårikål is not a dish I grew up eating, so I had high expectations for Norway’s national dish.
The first time I made it, I found it underwhelming. My initial thought was: “Wait, this is it? It just tastes like lamb. With peppercorns.”
With Fårikål Day coming up on Sept. 26, I was inspired to try fårikål again, to see if I could find a way to elevate this traditional Norwegian dish to taste like more than the sum of its ingredients.
Our incoming Editor-in-chief Lori Ann Reinhall recently sent me a fårikål recipe by Swedish celebrity chef Tareq Taylor, where he incorporates white wine, vinegar, and fresh herbs into his fårikål. It sparked my attention.
A couple years ago, I fell in love with the cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking, by Samin Nosrat. The book’s premise is that every dish needs a balance of salt, fat, acid, and heat.
Fårikål’s simple ingredient list has the salt, fat, and heat, but lacks the acid.
I took inspiration from Taylor’s recipe, and swapped the water for dry white wine to use as the braising liquid for the fårikål. After the dish was finished, I drizzled a bit of white wine vinegar on top of each bowl before serving. Just these two simple additions were enough to brighten the whole dish, and take it to lip-smackingly good.
4 lbs. bone-in lamb, such as neck or shoulder blade, cut into 1.5-inch pieces (ask the meat counter to do this for you!)
2 tsps. kosher salt
1⁄3 cup flour (optional)
2 heads of cabbage, cut into large wedges
1½ cups dry white wine
3 tbsps. whole peppercorns
4 tbsps. white wine vinegar, or to taste
In a large bowl, salt the meat with a couple tablespoons of kosher salt to season it. Cover and put in the fridge for at least two hours, up to 24 hours.
When you’re ready to cook, toss the lamb pieces with 1/3 cup of flour, which will help thicken the stew. This is optional; you can omit the flour to make the dish gluten-free.
In a 5-quart pot with a lid, place a single layer of lamb in the pot, followed by a layer of cabbage wedges, and half of the peppercorns. Repeat. Pour in 1.5 cups of white wine. Bring to boil and reduce to simmer with the lid on until the meat is tender, about 1.5 hours. Serve with boiled potatoes.
Like all good stews, fårikål’s flavor improves with a day of rest in the fridge, so consider making it a day before you want to serve it.
This article originally appeared in the September 6, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.