Ahhh, lutefisk… that once a year tradition in many Norwegian-America homes. My family happens to be one of them, and we come from a long line of lutefisk eaters.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with this foreign delicacy, lutefisk (lewd-uh-fisk) is dried cod fish that has been soaked in lye for several days to rehydrate it. Yes, I said lye… that same corrosive substance that will cause chemical burns and can be used in soap making. Lutefisk literally means “lye fish”. The origins of lutefisk aren’t clear, but what is known is that it was a way to preserve fish back in the day. The method of preservation also strips the fish of its texture entirely and replaces it with what I can only describe as a jello-like consistency.
Every Christmas Eve my very Scandinavian family celebrates with lutefisk and Swedish meatballs for dinner. And every year, I eat plenty of meatballs and dutifully consume one tiny bite of lutefisk followed by a chaser of wine. It’s a tradition that I’m not sure will carry on forever. My grandparents loved it and my parents genuinely do as well. Me… not so much.
This year, I spent Christmas with my very non-Norwegian in-laws in Mississippi and decided to share a good laugh by preparing lutefisk for them. They have heard my war stories about eating this gelatinous fish, but had never had the pleasure of experiencing it themselves. I gave them the pleasure.
How to prepare this most sought-after meal:
1) Cut the lutefisk into serving sized portions and place in a shallow baking dish.
2) Brush the top with melted butter and sprinkle with salt.
3) Add a little bit of water to the bottom of the pan to prevent sticking.
4) Bake at 350 degrees F. for about 45 minutes.
Quick tip: Keep those nose plugs handy or better yet, bake in a 2nd oven in the garage to manage the smell that will waft throughout the air.
There are many tips on how to eat lutefisk. Many people dip it in melted butter before eating. Some serve with a white sauce. As I mentioned earlier, I prefer the melted butter trick and have a glass of wine nearby to chase it down with.
As first time lutefisk consumers, everyone agreed that it’s not so much the taste, it’s the texture. Fish jello. Amazingly, they didn’t even vote me out of the family for serving it. Whew!
Next year I’ll bring them some lefse to make up for what I put them through this year.
Here are some of my relatives who so bravely participated in my little offering. (I’m sorry and I’ll never put you through this again.)