Fårikål – literally, “mutton in cabbage” is an adequate description in many ways of this Norwegian classic. A minimalistic meal consisting of mutton on the bone, cabbage, black pepper and water and cooked for several hours, is the unprecedented national dish in Norway. Sure, you’ve heard me mention many other dishes competing for the same title, but none compares to fårikål‘s popularity. In 1972, the listeners of the popular national radio show “Nitimen” crowned fårikål as our national dish, and consequently seems to have secured a special spot in the book of Norwegian culinary tradition and history.
The interest group Fårikålens Venner (friends of fårikål) names it the world’s best national dish, and I doubt they’ll get many protests from Norwegians. Mutton and cabbage? Doesn’t sound too enticing, does it? Believe me, once you taste this steamy, hot dish you will change your mind! Easy to prepare with four ingredients only, even the novice cook can impress, and it can be served straight from the stove to the table in the pot it was cooked in (informal is sometimes the best way!). Fårikål can even be made the day before you plan to serve it, as many people believe it tastes even better the second day. All these points contribute to why the dish is so widely popular all across the country.
So is fårikål a true Norwegian dish? According to the food site matprat.no, it was originally thought to be a Danish dish and brought to Kristiania (now Oslo) in the 19th century. In Denmark , fårikål was called “duck buried in white cabbage”. Since duck was not plentiful in Norway, mutton was substituted. Towards the 20th century, cabbage was also scarce, and the dish became a bit less common. Fårikål was first properly put on the Norwegian food map in the 1930’s.
What’s unique about fårikål is that it is served every day as well as at parties and special holidays and celebrations. In the country side, it was enjoyed during the week as a regular meal, when the women stayed at home and had time to cook. As the years passed by and people got busier, fårikål became a special Sunday dinner served with home brewed beer.
The last Thursday of September every year we celebrate the dish by organizing “fårikål” parties across the country. In school cafeterias, shopping centers, farmers markets, cafes, restaurants and homes across Norway, mutton and cabbage will be simmering away in big pots. Magazines, newspapers, radio and TV channels dedicate segments to this national dish, and it is estimated that 70% of Norwegians will consume fårikål at some point during the fall. Yearly festivals are organized all over the country, where the surrounding communities all work together and also help boost the local economy by increasing the demand for mutton. Many years, cooks will attempt to cook the “World’s largest pot of fårikål” – here’s an image from Fårikalens venner website where the pot contained 1,000 lbs of mutton, about 900 lbs of cabbage, 22 lb of salt and 4 1/2 lbs of pepper:
What’s the secret behind a great recipe for fårikål? You can use the meat from the shoulder, neck, breast, and flank of the sheep, parts perfect for simmering over a long time period. It’s important to cook the meat on the bone, as it will produce a whole lot more flavor, and preserve the juiciness in the mutton.
A myriad of theories exist as to how to best make fårikål, even though the ingredients should not differ regardless of where it is made in Norway. Depending on which family you visit, some may use flour to thicken the water/stock, while others turn their nose up at it. Usually the further north you go in the country, the more likely you are to see flour being added to the pot. The discussion continues as to whether to add whole peppercorns or grind the pepper, how much water to add, and whether or not to include carrots in the pot or as a side dish. Boiled potatoes are, of course, served with fårikål – some choose to boil the potatoes in with the mutton, while others boil them in their own separate pot.
These days, younger chefs and home cooks are eager to experiment with the dish to create different flavor profiles of fårikål, and will add chili peppers, bay leaves, garlic, ginger, and spices like caraway, cumin and juniper berries to the water. I’ve also seen people brown the meat before adding it to the pot, which adds more flavor.
Below is a traditional recipe for fårikål, as made in the region where I’m from (dare I say the best?). Hope you will all try it out one day, and I am always welcoming questions and comments!
About 2lbs mutton
1/2 lb cabbage, cut into chunks
1 tsp whole peppercorns
1 tbs butter (can be omitted)
1-2 tbsp all purpose flour
about 2 cups boiling hot water
If you have very lean cuts of meat, add the butter in the bottom of a large, heavy bottomed pan. Place the fattiest pieces of meat at the bottom, then layer some cabbage, salt, pepper and flour in between the meat pieces. You don’t have to use flour, and if you choose to omit flour, then be sure to add water that is boiling hot over the mutton and cabbage when turning it on. Let the dish simmer, covered, until the meat is tender, about 2 hours. Leave the pot alone, don’t stir – but you can shake it to avoid anything from sticking to the bottom.
If you choose to include flour, place the meat in cold water first and bring to a boil. Scoop out a couple of table spoons of the water, and mix in with the flour in a small bowl – and pour into the pot. Pour in as much as you want until desired consistency/thickness of the sauce. Make sure you make plenty of fårikål – we all know it tastes much better the following day!
What to drink with fårikål? Beer and aquavit, of course – the more pepper in the cabbage, and the stronger the mutton flavor, the more aggressive the aniseed and caraway flavors in the aquavit, the better. I would suggest Linie aquavit for the folks here in the U.S., as it’s the only Norwegian aquavit available in this country. In Norway, funnily enough, an aquavit was designed and launched in Norway last year to drink especially with fårikål:
As for beer, I would try the Rallar Amber Ale from the microbrewery Ægir Bryggeri, located in the small town of Flåm in Sogn of Fjordane. This is the county next to the one I was born in (Møre og Romsdal) hence I feel this is a relatively “local choice” 🙂 The Rallar Amber Ale has a dark brown color, and on the palate has flavors of caramel and chocolate, is quite fruity while gives off hints of spice at the end. Ægir were crowned the best microbrewery pub three years in a row and has a cool interior with a viking style and a huge fire place. The images below are from the brewery’s website, be sure to visit it! They’ve got a hotel on site, and also arrange fjord safaris! I will cover more about this brewery and other Norwegian micro breweries in a future post.
If you are not a fan of beer or aquavit, champagne is a different option to pair with fårikål. Some Norwegians might shake their head at this, as it certainly is not a traditional choice. That said, the bright, crisp acidity in the champagne is a natural partner to the fatty mutton and is also friends with the harder-to pair cabbage. I love blanc de blanc champagne, and some of my favorite brands without going into detail (that’s another blog!) include Pol Roger, Taittinger, Gosset and Bollinger. Wines with high tannins should be avoided. If you like red wines, choose a nice Pinot Noir from Burgundy or a Barbera d’Asti from Piedmont.