As September arrives in Norway so does the annual round up of the sheep from the mountain pastures to return them to their respective farms. Days of carefully planned and established methods see flocks move across the terrain guided by people and shepherd dogs alike. This is a special time. Days are set aside, bags are packed and groups of people take on this task together – moving and guiding the sheep, sleeping (sometimes bundled in sleeping bags in one-room cabins) and sharing communal meals. If the weather is favorable, the experience is said to be one of the most beautiful and remarkable excursions one can have in nature.
Once the sheep have returned, the inevitable must occur. A large proportion of the lambs, which have grown big and strong, will go straight from the pastures to the slaughterhouse. Others will spend a few more weeks at the farm to achieve the right weight. This is the time of year (aside from the early spring) when lamb becomes the highlight of many dishes. As the sheep have grazed among grass and wild herbs, the meat takes on an exceptional flavor. Most arguably, the favorite dish to feature such a wonderful bounty in the autumn is fårikål (lamb and cabbage stew).
In 1927, fårikål was named Norway’s national dish. Recently, a controversially vote was retaken in 2014 and fårikål received 45% of the vote, maintaining its place as Norway’s most beloved dish.
In Norway, mutton stew (fårikål) is often referred to as a national dish. We know now that dishes with combinations of mutton and vegetables exist in different forms in the majority of the countries along the North Sea. The form which is used in Norwegian fårikål is meat and cabbage, which are added alternately to a pot. This is a dish which exists in German cookbooks from the 18th century, spreads northward to Denmark, shows up in the elite Norwegian cookbooks in the 19th century, and becomes part of the Norwegian national diet around the beginning of the 20th century, thus less than a hundred years ago. – Henry Notaker, Anthropology of Food
The term får-i-kål, which means lamb in cabbage, is of Danish origin. The word får never took hold in the Norwegian dialect. Instead, the words sau og smale (sheep) are used. A New-Norwegian (nynorsk) language pioneer, Arne Garborg, used the term lam-i-kål in order to remove the dish from any Danish connection. However, this term was not successful in replacing fårikål. (Gannens Makt)
Despite its origins, perhaps the dish is so loved because the ingredients represent Norway. Lamb from the mountains, potatoes just harvested from the field and fresh cabbage grown throughout the summer. Together, they form a little piece of Norway. And it truly is a dish you want to indulge in when autumn come around.
Fårikål is incredibly simple to make and features cabbage and lamb (mutton can be used instead but will give a stronger flavor). The layers of cabbage and lamb are decorated with whole, black peppercorns. Tradition has it that the peppercorns help digestion and should be eaten with the dish, while many today brush them off while eating or merely place them in a spice bag during cooking to discard later.
Originally, fårikål was a weekday dish but as cooking time became more scare the dish was commonly used as a Sunday dinner served with home-brewed beer. Today, it is still served on Sundays and used as a ‘guest dish’ when friends come around. Fårikål also has its own national day called Fårikålens Festdag, Fårikål Feast Day, which occurs on the last Thursday of September each year.
This is such a tasty dish and one which tastes even better the next day or the day after. Serve it with boiled potatoes, flatbread and a glass of locally-brewed beer. You’ll feel like your eating a little piece of Norway and be before off for it!
Fårikål (Norwegian Lamb & Cabbage Stew)
- 2 kg / 4 ½ lbs lamb meat, cut into large pieces (neck, shoulder, shank)
- 2 kg / 4 ½ lbs white cabbage, cut into large wedges.
- 5 tsp whole black peppercorns
- 3 tsp salt
- 4 dl (1 ¾ cup) water
- 60g (½ cup) flour (omit for a gluten-free option)
In a bowl, mix together the flour and lamb meat. The flour will help thicken the stew just a bit as it cooks.
Pour the water into a large casserole pot. Place a layer of the floured lamb on the bottom, followed by a layer of cabbage. Add some peppercorns and salt. Repeat this process until you have used all the ingredients, finishing with a final layer of cabbage on top. The volume should be about 1 part meat to 4 parts cabbage.
Cover with a lid and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low and slowly cook until the meat is tender (detaches from the bone), around 2 -hours. The cabbage contains a lot of water that will be emitted during the cooking time, so don’t feel compelled to add more water than the stated amount.
Serve hot with freshly boiled potatoes and a knob of butter.