Iceland: Kjötsúpa


Do you remember how I subjected this blog to a vote to decide 10 final countries for the 50 Countries Challenge? No? I'm not surprised. BUT--this recipe was one selected by the majority (read: 3 or 4) people. So, naturally, I felt obligated to proceed with making it.

I love lamb. I like root vegetables. I like hot soup when it's 5 degrees outside and the sidewalks are encrusted with ice because no one in Champaign salts. Obviously, I was excited about the prospect of a dish that incorporated all of these things and landed squarely in my belly.

The sad news is that for how much I built this dish up in my mind, it fell really short of my expectations. Well, no...that's just being nice. I REALLY do not like this soup. It's too much lamb flavor (apparently there is such a thing--who knew?) and not enough spices, despite my adding far more than the recipe called for. It's really fatty, too, despite my having skimmed the crap out of it. I actually said something along the lines of "Needing water to wash the taste out." Friends, I like pretty much everything. So, this is a sad incident, indeed.

I am willing to venture a guess that Kjötsúpa is an acquired taste. Hell, there's an entire Facebook group devoted to it. But, I've also heard undesirable things about Icelandic cuisine. For instance, in a book I read recently ("Boozehound" by Jason Wilson), it was said that an Icelandic festival delicacy was rotten shark meat, washed down by a burning, highly alcoholic liquor. I can imagine that in comparison to the rotting flesh of sea creatures, Kjötsúpa would be quite delicious.

I am (mostly) kidding. This is not inedible. But it is definitely not to my taste. Sad day.

Kjötsúpa (from
-2 Tbsp. olive oil
-1 tsp. finely chopped garlic
-3 pounds lamb, on the bone (thick chops or shoulder … whatever is cheapest!)
-1 medium onion, sliced
-1/3 cup brown rice (traditionalists use rolled oats as an alternative)
-6 cups water
-1/2 tsp. dried thyme
-1/2 tsp. dried oregano
-1/2 cabbage, roughly chopped
-3 carrots, diced into 1/2" pieces
-1/2 rutabaga, uniformly diced
-1 cup cauliflower florets (optional)
-4 potatoes, scrubbed well and diced into uniform 1/2" pieces (see alternative note below)

1. In a large pot or dutch oven, briefly sauté the garlic in the olive oil for 1-2 minutes over medium heat (do not brown). Add the lamb pieces and brown on all sides. Add the sliced onion to the pot and sauté very lightly (about 1 minute), then pour in the brown rice and water. Raise heat to high, bringing the soup to a low boil; allow to boil for 5 minutes, skimming away the froth as it rises.

2. Reduce heat to medium, stir in dried thyme and oregano, cover pot, and cook for 40 minutes.

3. Add cabbage, carrots, rutabaga, cauliflower (if using), and diced potatoes. Cook, covered, for an additional 20 minutes, or until vegetables are fork-tender.

4. Remove meat and bones from pot, chop meat coarsely, then return. Warm for an additional 5 minutes. (Alternatively, some Icelanders will remove the lamb and potatoes from the pot and serve these on a plate, separately from the soup. If presenting the meal this way, chop the potatoes into larger, 1" chunks).

Yield: 6-8 servings of kjötsúpa.


cynnerth said...

Well heck! I imagined it would be delicious too. I was one of the people who voted for it, and that fact is one of the few that I remember. ;-)

phil99 said...

I guess that it's a dish that developed due to the nature of the region. High fat content is all part of the lifestyle when you live in a country which is in darkness and freezing for a good portion of the year!

Christine Wu said...

Too bad! I thought it'd be delicious since I love lamb. But the fatty part sounds unappetizing.. but perhaps it's because Iceland is cold, hence the fattiness of the dish, to keep people warm? I'm just wild guessing here.

Kristin said...

Icelandic food tends to be quite bland as salt and pepper were the only spices available until very recently. So the soups isn't very spicy, though now people spice it more than in old times. Also, most people trim the fat off the lamb before cooking too. I actually quite like meat soup. It's one of my favorite Icelandic dishes. (There are some really gross foods over here, but this isn't one of them!)Cheers~!

Anonymous said...

I ate this soup in Iceland, at a ranch that raises thousands of Icelandic sheep. It was hearty and tasty. I have since made my own version at home, but using New Zealand lamb, as it has more gaminess than Canadian lamb. I used steel cut oats to try to stick to tradition. I also made use of a lamb seasoning blend that I brought home from Iceland. I was far more liberal with the spices than is typical in Icelandic cuisine, but let's face it, Icelandic seasonings are on the bland side. The spice blend contains sage, wild thyme, marjoram, oregano, and garlic chives. It, along with salt and plenty of black pepper worked nicely in the soup. I left the fat and bones to make the broth, but skimmed much of the fat from the broth and cut away most of the fat before serving the soup. The rutabaga does a lot for the soup, but I also found that a healthy dose of onion, carrot and celery (celery is not standard), helped out as well. I'm sure I chopped in some flat leaf parsley for a hit of green. I served it to my husband and his business partner and it was well received. One must be a fan of lamb to like this soup, though.

PB Shearing said...

you didn't stick to tradition!

PB Shearing said...

you didn't stick to tradition!

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