As part of a New Year’s resolution, I’m cooking a dish from each country around the world. Check out my progress here!
From Norway, we move on to Iceland, last of the Nordic countries.
To be frank, Iceland is a country I know (or I should say knew) little about. As a kid, I remember learning the quirk that Greenland* is full of ice and Iceland is quite green. Also, the capital of Iceland is Reykjavik. Then there’s of course the indie Icelandic band Sigur Ros that I discovered in college. That was really the extent of my knowledge!
* I only just learned Greenland is an autonomous country belonging to the kingdom of Denmark.
For Iceland, I thought long and hard about what I wanted to make or what I thought I could make.
Icelandic cuisine has similar roots in that of the other Nordic and Scandinavian countries — lots of wild game like reindeer; herring and rye bread are popular; and lamb and sheep is the most commonly eaten meat (Icelandic hot dogs are often made with pork, beef and lamb, which adds a deep richness). But to make a classic Icelandic dish, the options were a bit more limited – as many sites are quick to detail, Icelandic cuisine has many dishes that we may find a bit odd or unusual.
I could have boiled and roasted a whole sheep’s head (Icelander’s eat everything but the brain apparently!). I could have stewed a puffin in milk sauce…. puffins are adorable, but a common type of game eaten in this country interestingly. And putrefied shark or Hákarl a delicacy here and something most tourists to Iceland try at least once.
Without access to puffins, sharks or whole sheep’s heads, what’s a gal to do?
Enter Siggi Hilmarsson. Siggi is a native Icelander who has been in the states for a decade+, living in New York. He recently spoke at the New Nordic Cuisine Symposium that I went to in April about developing his brand of Icelandic yogurt, skyr, for American consumers. Homesick, he started making his first batch in his apartment and now has an official production, selling Siggi’s skyr in Whole Foods among other retailers.
After the presentations, I asked him what he thought I should cook for this project for his home country. He replied quickly, “Why don’t you make skyr?” I laughed it off thinking I’m not apt or prepared enough to make my own yogurt. Pressing further he explained a great Icelandic dish is a lamb roast typically served for a Sunday night meal. I thanked him, deciding I’d do that…
But weeks later, here I am in the thralls of making yogurt in my Brooklyn kitchen! And not any yogurt but Icelandic yogurt.
Brief pause — I recommend playing this Sigur Ros song while reading the rest of this post. It will make yogurt making seem like the most momentous and joyous experience of your life, I promise!
So to begin, I used Jules Food’s recipe for my skyr. (When you google homemade skyr most blogs actually use her recipe which I think is cute! She is the queen of skyr and we are her subjects). It’s kind of an intensive process but mostly a lot of wait time!
Interesting thing about making yogurt – you need yogurt to make yogurt or at least active cultures that are easily found in yogurt. I, of course, for this step am using Siggis skyr (which I’d never tried before).
Skyr is quite similar to Greek yogurt – it’s thick and creamy and quite tangy. As I learned, skyr is only made with fat free milk whereas Greek yogurt can be made with either type of milk. You know it’s like a square is a rectangle but a rectangle isn’t a square and all that stuff… Interestingly, I read somewhere skyr is technically a strained skim milk cheese… though marketed as yogurt (is this really true yogurt connoisseurs?). But as a result of the fat free milk used in skyr, it is the healthier option when compared to most American made yogurts as well as Greek yogurt actually. Skyr is high in protein and calcium and naturally low fat!
And Siggi’s is a great skyr option for us New York folk! They have a range of flavors… I tried the vanilla an strawberry (both were great), but at my local grocery store there was also a pomegranate flavor among others. That’s another thing – it’s pretty awesome I could find skyr in our mid size grocery store in Bed Stuy (they are in whole foods around the area too!).
I second guessed every step of this recipe by the way…. I mean I’ve never made yogurt before. I had no idea if I was doing any of this right. The idea of letting a dairy product just chill on my counter incubating and firming seemed wrong or at least “dangerous” from a food safety perspective. But apparently the bacteria in the yogurt keeps it “safe.” (Also… making yogurt is not the most aesthetically pleasing process blog wise — lots of curds and whey which were not as silky smooth as other blogs I’ve seen so pardon the lack of step by step photos).
I used liquid vegetable rennet. As I learned rennet is basically bacteria from a cow’s stomach (which does sound super gross). The enzymes in it help the milk coagulate and separate into curds and whey. Not really sure how you get vegetable rennet…
Look at how crafty I got!
After 2 hours of draining, you have lovely thick skyr. Not perfect by my standards but a great first attempt!
There’s something really satisfying about making yogurt. You start with milk and after hours/days and some cooking you have yogurt! (Soon I will continue my lessons in wizardry and make cheese).
Serve with granola! As they say in Icelandic, Verði þér að góðu!