Traditional smoked lamb

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Traditional smoked lamb

Hangikjöt Icelandic traditional smoked lamb (hangikjöt in Icelandic) is dry-salted or pickled in brine and cold-smoked over a fire fueled by dried sheep dung. The smoking method gives the meat a characteristic flavor. Traditional smoked lamb is an intrinsic part of the Christmas festivities in Iceland and is commonly eaten with boiled potatoes, white sauce and canned peas. It is also popular as luncheon meat on Icelandic rye pancakes or other types of bread. The settlement of Iceland in the 9th and 10th centuries brought vast environmental change to the country. The large birch and willow woodlands were gradually destroyed, and firewood had to be replaced by other types of fuel, such as peat and dried sheep dung. Under these circumstances, drying by smoking under a fire from sheep dung became the principal preservation method for meat. Today, dried sheep dung is still important for smoking food. Sheep are kept indoors during the coldest months, and in spring the pens are emptied and flakes of sheep dung mixed with hay are stacked outdoors for drying and maturing, a process which may take up to five years. Before the introduction of kitchen stoves in early 20th century, smoking was done by placing the food directly above the hearth used for cooking in the old sod houses, but today it is done in special ovens or smoke houses. Traditional smoked lamb, normally the leg or shoulder, is first dry salted or brined. Sodium nitrite is added for curing, but injection of additives and tumbling are not used. After salting, the meat is cold-smoked over a fire with the sheep dung, sometimes mixed with some birch. The smoking time is quite variable, depending on conditions and personal preferences. This preparation of lamb is produced all around Iceland. While a large portion of production takes place in meat processing plants, many sheep farms have their own smokehouses for their own consumption. Traditional smoked lamb is very popular in Iceland. The annual production is 200 to 250 tons or approximately 0.7 kg per capita. Most of this is purchased from larger meat processors, but a few sheep farms sell their products in food stores or through direct sales. Despite the popularity of traditional smoked lamb, the status of lamb in Iceland in general is threatened by lower priced poultry and pork from factory farming. In the last few decades, the total consumption of lamb has steadily declined, and poultry has taken its place as the most popular meat.

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