Salting meat - Saltkjöt

Someone e-mailed me not too long ago and asked for a recipe for salting mutton. This is the recipe in my mother‘s old cookbook. I haven‘t tested it, but am relying on my grandmother‘s advice for the information that was missing, such as the minimum brining time and how long it will stay preserved.

The recipe contains saltpetre (potassium nitrate), the use of which has been mostly discontinued in Iceland due to health concerns. Saltpetre was used as an extra preservative and it also gives the food a characteristic pink hue. It may be safely left out, but the meat may not keep for quite as long as it would otherwise. The sugar tenderises the meat.

Meat may be dry salted or brined. Dry salting is best for lean meat and brining for fatty meat.

For 50 kg of meat (mutton, lamb, horse, beef, pork, etc.):

Salting mixture:
3 kg salt (coarse pickling salt works best)
250 g sugar
2 litres water
(30 g saltpetre)

The meat should be cut into in serving-sized pieces (half-cutlets, steaks, etc.). It should be clean and should preferably be brined or salted as soon as it has cooled after butchering.

Choose a clean, watertight container with a tight lid for the salting/brining (a barrel is traditional). Its size should depend on the amount of meat you want to preserve. It should always be as close to full as possible.

Dry salting:
Mix together salt, sugar and saltpetre (if using). Sprinkle a little of the mixture on the bottom of the barrel. Roll the meat pieces in the mixture and pack them tightly into the barrel in layers. Press down. Sprinkle a little salt over each layer and pour 100 ml water (2/5 cup) water over each layer. End with a solid layer of salt.

Put a lid or something that fits snugly into the barrel on top of the meat and weigh it down, e.g. with bricks. A brine will form as the juices leak out of the meat. Make sure that the meat is all under the surface of the brine (thus the weighing down). Leave the meat in the barrel for at least 3 weeks, in a cool place. Should keep for up to a year if kept cool.

Brining is adviceable for warmer weather and fatty meat. To make the brine, mix salt, sugar and saltpetre in approximately the percentages in the recipe for the salting mixture, and dissolve in cool water until a raw potato floats in the brine. Pack the meat in layers as in the previous recipe, pouring in the brine when the barrel is almost full. Keep topping up with brine as it seeps into the meat layers, and weight down when the meat has settled and the barrel will take no more brine.

Before cooking the salted/brined meat, soak it in plenty of water as needed (overnight or longer, depending on for how long it has been in the brine, changing the water a couple of times).

This meat may be cooked and served with cooked potatoes and cabbage. The stock may be used to make pea soup.


Anonymous said…
I recently found your blog and am so excited to have stumbled upon it. I am half Icelandic and haven't been back for over 10 years. My mother is full Icelandic, so Icelandic food has been a large part of my life. Saltkjot is one of my all-time favorites, as long as I can have it with mashed potatoes and sugar sprinkled on them (the potatoes).

I would love to know how to make Skyr. It's the one thing I crave consistently. Whole Foods Market in the USA carries Siggi's Skyr, but it lacks something. Just doesn't taste as "clean" as real Skyr.
Also.. Icelandic cheese with the red wax rind... yum! Haven't found a good equivalent here in the States.
There is nothing on Earth like fresh Icelandic fish right from the dock. My Afi used to cook fish to perfection. When I was little, they used to mash my fish into the Icelandic boiled potatoes and drizzle with butter. Oh, and hankikjot at Christmas(probably spelled wrong), and ptarmigan~!~! Pilsur! Vinabrod! Hard fiskur!!!!
Okay, I've got to stop. I'm drooling!
Blessings, and thank you for a great blog. Keep the recipes coming!
Bibliophile said…
Thanks for you comment, Anon. You obviously love Icelandic food.

There is a recipe for skyr lower down in the blog entries, but before you try it, you need to get some unflavoured skyr in order to obtain the right bacteria culture to get the right skyr taste.
Anonymous said…
Loved to read your comments on Icelandic food. I have been away from Iceland for over 40 years and I constantly crave the food I had when I was a kid. It was OK when I lived in Sweden and my mother sent food parcels ha ha, particularly hangjikjöt for Christmas. Not so easy since I moved to Australia, been here for 33 years. I learned how to make skyr when I was little and you are so right, nothing tastes like the real skyr. I had the job of looking after the smoke house when I was about 14, 15 because we used to smoke meat for a lot of the farms around. Had to make sure there was only smoke and no fire because it would have destroyed the meat. Hey, I´m just cooking Kjötsúpa and I just had a craving for svið which I haven´t tasted for a number of years.
Bibliophile said…
Nice to hear from you, Anonymous. There really is no food like the food one grew up with, is there?

I'm sure I too would miss hangikjöt and skyr if I were to move abroad.
Anonymous said…
Ace been looking for a way to do this in Australia where its hot all day everyday.
will give the brining a go cheers

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