Glazed Ham – The Quintessential Icelandic Christmas Food

While smoked lamb (hangikjöt) is often eaten over Christmas, it is generally not eaten on Christmas Eve – the main Christmas holiday in Iceland. While the selection has diversified in the last few decades, glazed ham remains one of the most popular dishes on Icelandic Christmas dinner tables, and almost 50% of people still eat it. It became popular in the 1950s. 

The glazed ham is called hamborgarhryggur in Iceland and like many popular Icelandic dishes, this one came from Denmark. The term ‘hamborgarhryggur’ partially derives its name from Hamburg, a city in Northern Germany, literally translating to ‘rack from Hamburg’. This reflects the German fondness for this type of meat. It’s believed that the Danes might have embraced this meat processing technique from the Germans. Intriguingly, in Germany, the meat isn’t referred to in connection with Hamburg. Instead, it’s named after Kassel, a city in the federal state of Hesse, known as ‘Kasseler’, denoting its Kassel origin.

If you want to learn more about Icelandic Christmas traditions, check out our blogs on Icelandic Christmas Traditions, Christmas Gift of the Year and the 13 Icelandic Santas!

Without further ado, let’s dive into the recipe.

Glazed Christmas Ham


2.5 kg / 5.8 pounds lightly smoked rack of pork (for about 6 people)


  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 3 tbsp. Brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. mustard
  • You can add 2 tbsp. red wine if you want


  • 150 gr. / 5.2 oz butter
  • ½ tsp. pepper
  • 1 ½ litres of broth from the rack of pork
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 cup cream
  • Beef stock (to taste)
  • 2 tsp. brown sugar
  • approx. 110 gr. flour/ 75 gr. butter (4 oz / 2.6 oz)


Caramelized potatoes

  • 1 kg / 2.3 pounds boiled potatoes (preferably small and similar in size)
  • 1 tbsp cold water
  • 60 g / 2.1 oz granulated sugar
  • 30 g / 1 oz butter

Waldorf salad

  • 2-3 red apples
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 1 dl / 0.4 US cups walnuts
  • grapes, green or red, e.g. 20-30 pcs
  • 3/4 can sour cream (one container is 180g / 6.s oz)
  • 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 dl / 0.4 US cups whipped cream

Oven-roasted vegetables
Red cabbage slaw
Green peas 

Photo: Gott í matinn

How to Prepare the Glazed Ham

Put the pork in a large pot, cover it with water, and let it simmer on the stove for about an hour. It’s essential to ensure that the water doesn’t boil at all. It’s best to let the rack simmer on low heat. Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature by inserting it into the middle of the meat, but not all the way to the bone. Cook until the thermometer reads 65°C. After boiling, add the glaze and put it in the oven until the core temperature reaches 72°C. 

To prepare the glaze, melt the butter, brown sugar and mustard together in a pan and let it boil for 2 minutes.

How to Prepare the Sauce 

To make the sauce, simmer the broth in a pot with cream, red wine, and spices and thicken it with the butter/flour mix. Melt butter in a pan or pot and add flour. It will get a choux consitency.

Variation: Add Pineapples!

Those who want can add pineapple slices from a can to the ham before putting it into the oven. Adding the juice from the can to the glaze is also possible. Then, pour the juice onto the sugar and mustard mix and boil it for two minutes.  

How to Prepare Caramelized Potatoes

To caramelize potatoes, you need to peel and boil them. Take a pan and heat it over medium heat. Add sugar to it and brown it; be cautious while heating it. Once it starts changing its colour, add butter to it and stir it well. Put the potatoes into the pan and roll them properly in the caramel so they are evenly coated and look beautiful.

How to Prepare the Waldorf Salad

Start by peeling the apples and cutting them into small pieces. Drizzle some lemon juice over them. Cut the grapes in half and mix them with the chopped walnuts. Mix the sour cream, mayonnaise, and sugar in a separate bowl. Carefully fold in the whipped cream and mix until everything is well combined. Chill the mixture in the refrigerator before serving.

How to Prepare Roasted Vegetables

It is good to use root vegetables, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, bell peppers, mushrooms, gourds and other vegetables in that vein. Cut it down into small bites, spread it over an oven pan, blend thyme, rosemary, oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper in a bowl, and pour it over the vegetables. Cook for about 30-40 minutes at 200°C or until it is soft. It’s good to stir every 10 minutes or so.

2 Responses
  1. Charlene

    Could you please explain a few things in this recipe:

    1. What 3/4 of a can of sour cream means? What size of container?
    2. What is a “dl” of walnuts and a “dl” of whipped cream?
    3. What does “A cup of butter (approx. 110 gr. flour/ 75 gr. butter)” mean? Do you combine the flour and butter together?

    Thanks! Want to try this recipe but don’t understand the above!

    1. Helga Dís Björgúlfsdóttir

      Hi Charlene, thank you for your comment and good questions.

      One can or container of sour cream in Iceland is 180 g (6.3 oz). One dl (decilitre) is about 0.4 US cups. The last one was a translation error – it’s a thickening agent for the sauce, you melt butter and add flour to it and then create the sauce from that, it will get a choux consistency 🙂 Hope this helps – I will also add this too the recipe to make it clearer.

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