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Sheep’s Head Jelly

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Sheep’s Head Jelly

Click on the picture to watch an audio slideshow of how traditional Icelandic sheep’s head jelly is made, which is traditionally served soured as part of the Thorrablót mid-winter celebrations. The jelly can also be eaten fresh, preferred by those who dislike eating sheep heads boiled, and is surprisingly tasty at that.

Narration and photos by Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir.

Sheep’s head jelly, similar to American headcheese or Scottish potted heid, is a vital part of the traditional Icelandic Thorri food served during the mid-winter feast of Thorrablót. The jelly was usually made in fall and preserved in a soured state, but it can also be eaten fresh.

Thorri is the fourth month of winter according to the old Icelandic calendar. It begins on the 13th week of winter (January 18 to 24) and always on a Friday. The first day of Thorri is known as Bóndadagur, or Husbands’ Day, when wives and girlfriends pamper their husbands and ideally serve them Thorri food.

In addition to sheep’s head jelly, the traditional Thorri menu consists of other soured sheep products called súrmatur, such as blood and liver pudding, ram testicles, brisket and lundabaggi, a roll of secondary meats, smoked lamb (hangikjöt), putrefied shark, buttered dried fish, leftover leafbread (laufabraud) from Christmas and flatkaka rye pancake. Everything is washed down with brennivín schnapps.

Singed sheep heads split in two are often eaten boiled with potatoes and turnips or alongside slátur, blood and liver pudding. However, some dislike facing the sheep they are dining on and prefer sheep’s head jelly, which is surprisingly tasty.

Wash the sheep’s heads. Place the halves in a large casserole, face up. Salt the sheep’s heads, one tablespoon for each liter of water. If you stack heads on top of each other, salt each layer. Then pour cold water into the casserole until it covers the heads.

Bring to boil and lower the heat. Boil for at least two hours. Take the sheep’s heads out of the water while they’re hot, but don’t pour out the broth.

Remove the skin from the sheep’s heads and split them in two by pulling the jaws apart. Then pluck all bits of meat off the bones and place it in a plastic container or an oblong loaf pan.

Don’t forget the tongue, which is the best piece of meat on the sheep’s head. Traditionally, eyes are eaten too, but since there’s not any meat in them, they can be left out.

Once you’ve carefully removed all meat from the bones, even the pieces of meat out. Then pour some broth into the container or pan so that it almost covers the top pieces of meat.

Leave to cool for awhile before the container or pan is placed in the refrigerator. After a few hours the sheep’s head jelly is ready; the broth will have congealed around the meat forming an aspic.

Sheep’s head jelly is usually served cold with boiled potatoes and turnips.

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