Icelanders are quite traditional when it comes to their Christmas food with recipes being handed down generations and new relationships are often tested when it comes to deciding which family's Christmas foods to serve on Christmas Eve. Luckily there are plenty of Christmas buffet's and family gatherings over the holidays to make sure everyone gets a taste of their favorites like:
Hangikjöt is the smoked lamb traditionally served by Icelanders over the Christmas holidays. The meat is usually served with potatoes in Béchamel sauce and green peas but there are several other imaginative ways to make a meal of this delicious local delicacy. Leftover Hangikjöt can be used on Icelandic flatbread, in sandwiches or as a tasty snack. Hangikjöt is usually boiled but each family will have its own opinion on how to boil it and for how long. Try it with the Christmas favorite Malt & Appelsín, a mix of two soft drinks that has become traditional.
Many households will serve ptarmigan on Christmas Eve. Ptarmigan is a bird in the grouse family and has a similarly gamey taste. Like with the Hangikjöt, each family will have their own way of preparing and serving the ptarmigan. However, most people will serve it with caramelised potatoes and pickled red cabbage. In the old days ptarmigan was eaten in poorer households, ones that couldn’t afford lamb, but today the dish has become very popular and sometimes the meat is even sold out in shops.
Smoked ham is usually the alternative to Hangikjöt. The custom is originally Danish but has been a part of the Icelandic Christmas for many years. The ham is glazed with mustard and brown sugar and served with caramelised potatoes, red cabbage and brown sauce. Similar to Hangikjöt, the leftover ham is often served on Icelandic flatbread at family gatherings after the holidays.
Skate is a fish closely related to the species of rays. Skate is considered a delicacy in Iceland and is served on Thorlak’s Mass on December 23rd. Similarly to how Icelanders process shark, the skate is putrefied and therefore has a very strong smell. On Thorlak’s Mass wherever you are, you are sure to run into the smell before you hear the noise of Icelander’s making merry. Skate is usually served with boiled potatoes and rye bread.
Baking is a big part of Christmas preparations in Iceland. Most homes will bake several different kinds of Christmas cookies and most families will have had traditional recipes handed down through generations and will guard them heavily. What most Icelanders find absolutely essential to Christmas is the Leaf Bread. Ingredients to make the wafer thin bread were hard to find most times of the year except around Christmas and the bread was baked so thin so everyone could have a piece. Decorative patterns are carved into the bread to make it more festive.
A tradition that originates in Denmark, the cold rice pudding known as risalamande has become a crucial part of the Christmas meal for many Icelanders. Rice is boiled in milk and vanilla and after it has cooled, cream and almonds are mixed in. It is then served as a dessert on Christmas Eve with either cherry- or applesauce. Many families will play a game where a whole almond is hidden in the pudding and the one who finds it wins a small prize.
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