29 September 2010

Fårikål - Recipe

September is the month when farmers in Norway bring their sheep down from their summer grazing pastures high up in the majestic mountains. The sheep have spent this time eating grass that is often intermingled with wild herbs. This has the effect of imparting such a wonderfully mild and fragrant aroma to the meat. As a result, Norwegian lamb is some of the best I have ever tasted.

There's nothing better to celebrate this wonderful bounty than making fårikål, a traditional Norwegian meal of lamb and cabbage (in fact the name, "får i kål", means just that - "sheep in cabbage"), which was voted the country's national dish in a radio programme in the 1970s. In fact, the last Thursday of September is Fårikålens Festdag (Fårikål Feast Day), and Norwegians celebrate this day by making this simple, but delicious dish. Such is their passion for this dish that Norwegians even have a National Fårikål Society, which opines on all things fårikål.

Fårikål is made from just two main ingredients: cabbage and lamb, but you can also use mutton instead (the older the animal, the stronger the taste). Therefore, the quality of each is imperative. The meat should be taken from the shoulder, neck or shank and should always be left on the bone and include some fat, which will soak into the cabbage, making them meltingly tender. The cabbage should be the best quality green cabbage you can find. Don't be tempted to use fancier varieties such as Savoy – fårikål is not a pretty dish, but what it lacks in visual appeal, it more than makes up for in flavour. This is one of those dishes that benefits from a day or two maturing in the fridge after you have made it, so make sure you make extra to save for later.

Traditionally, fårikål is served with boiled potatoes, deliciously thin and crisp Norwegian flatbrød (flat bread), and homemade lingonberry jam (just lingonberries and sugar mashed up, no cooking needed). The pan juices at the bottom of the casserole should be pored over the top of the lamb, as the water we added earlier will now have transformed itself into a rich and hearty lamb broth. You can pick out the whole peppercorns later if you like, but hardcore fårikål lovers will munch on these and think you a wimp if you do otherwise! Fårikål is best served with a glass of dark ale, or perhaps some fiery akevitt. It is a perfect warm, rib-sticking meal to have after spending the day walking in the mountains.

This recipe for fårikål comes courtesy of Grandma Nibbler, who made the delicious food you can see in the photo above (my inferior attempt can be seen in the photos below) - she even made her own flatbrød and lingonberry jam. However, I think she was somewhat bemused when I asked to take photos of the finished dish.

Ingredients (serves 6)
  • 2 ½ kg lamb/hogget/mutton on the bone (shoulder, shank or neck) cut into 3cm slices
  • 2 ½ kg green cabbage
  • 500ml water
  • 6 tsp whole black peppercorns
  • Salt, to taste (about 3 tsp or so)
  1. Cut the cabbage into quarters down the core and cut each quarter into 3-4 wedges (the idea is to keep part of the core on each segment, which will hold the leaves together and prevent the whole thing disintegrating while cooking).
  2. Pour the water into a large casserole pot. Place a layer of lamb, then a layer of cabbage into the pot, seasoning each layer with salt and some of the whole peppercorns as you go.
  3. Repeat this layering process until you have used up all the ingredients. The final layer on the top should always be cabbage.
  4. Cover tightly and bring to the boil
  5. Simmer over a very low heat for 2-3 hours until the lamb is really tender and falling off the bone (check the water level now and then, making sure the pan doesn't run dry).
  6. Serve on warmed plates with boiled potatoes, flatbrød, and homemade lingonberry jam. The juices in the bottom of the pot make an excellent gravy.


  1. Had Fårikål yesterday, made with those exact ingredients, nothing more, nothing less! What an amazing lamb broth, no other ingredients masking the pure lamb flavour. It tasted all the better having just butchered 30 whole lambs from a local farm (on Vega, Helgeland). Now there's different cuts salting prior to being smoked for pinnekjøtt, rulle and fenalår etc for the julbord! Some great husmanskost without a doubt....just a shame the supermarkets aren't up to scratch!

  2. Hei MMonkman, that sounds wonderful. As always the place to get the best meat in Norway is directly from the farm. I'm intrigued to see how you make the other things for the julebord, pinnekjøtt is one of my favourites!

  3. If it weren't a balmy 28 C in London today I would so be making Fårikål! Love it, and it tastes better each time you reheat it :)

  4. Coocking Fårikål tomorrow here in Helsinki :)
    I miss very much Pinnekjøtt, which is not possible to have here in Finland.
    I wish to all great Fårikåldag 2012 !
    Esa Tukia

  5. Born & raised in Bergen, now living in California. Fårikål represents favorite Sunday memories as a child at home. Afterwads a walk down to the railroad station for some waffles.
    I'll be making mine this winter using New Zeland lamb as I think the west coast california lamb is too fatty anf too mild in flavor.
    Thanks for the post.

  6. Lovely to find your blog and the excellent scandinavian food inspiration. I'm from Norway, but moved to Wales with Australian husband, keeping Norwegian food traditions alive, hence how I found your blog; Fårikål on the menu today! Thanks!

  7. This was requested by my girlfriend's father, who is from Southern Norway. It sounds wonderful. He mentioned a flavorful white gravy, though... Is that simply pulled from the bottom of the pan?
    Thank you from Alaska

    1. Some people like to thicken up the fårikål sauce by adding flour between the layers before cooking, so maybe that's what he was referring to? I reckon around 2 tablespoons of flour should do it for the recipe above. Let me know how you get on!