I had lutefisk for lunch the other day and invited all my Facebook friends. No one accepted, but many sent their happy regrets.
Around here, stating publicly that you like lutefisk could haunt you later in any civil action in which your judgment is questioned.
I eat it because my heritage is Norwegian, my folks ate it every year at Christmas time, and my sister maintains tradition by serving lutefisk at our joint family Christmas dinner. My sister and her husband, another fellow with Viking blood in his veins, like the stuff well enough, but my late brother wouldn’t touch it, nor do either of our wives or any of the kids, who double-down on the meatballs and gravy.
Back in the day, my mom made Christmas lutefisk the old-fashioned way. She bought it in frozen blocks that came in a wooden crate from somewhere in Minnesota. Classic lutefisk is codfish that is cured in lye as a preservative, and you had to the boil the fish in cheesecloth to get the lye out while maintaining at least a degree of solidity in the fish. The process left a gelatinous mound of product and a stink that could cover up a meth lab. And I can recall the occasional poisonous zing of biting into a pea-sized bit of lye that somehow survived the boiling and made it onto my plate.
For me, biting into a bit of lye was the ultimate “nasty” associated with lutefisk.
My dad enjoyed his lutefisk spread onto potato lefse and bathed in melted butter. Others mix their fish with a forkful of mashed potatoes to get it down. Some folks also serve it with bacon and onions. Like my dad, I prefer the lefse method, and refer to it as a Norwegian taco. Wash it down with dark beer and a shot of aquavuit, and you can ski, skate or copulate like an Olympic medalist.
I’m not sure how lutefisk is processed these days, but it no longer comes in lye. My sister, who sent her uncooked leftovers home with me, got hers from an outfit named ScanSpecial, Inc., in Poulsbo, WA, and paid $11.99 a pound, which made it more expensive than fresh salmon or beef steak. She bought lefse, too, although homemade lefse isn’t that difficult to come by. The kids at my church make and sell lefse as a holiday fundraiser. And, you know, the commercial lefse sold under the name Mrs. Olson’s isn’t half-bad, and, by golly, it lasts longer than the homemade stuff by several weeks in the refrigerator.
My sister sent me home with one pack of lefse and about a pound of fresh lutefisk. The cooking directions on the bag were partially obscured, so I called the phone number for ScanSpecial, Inc. to ask whether boiling or baking was the best method, and a polite female American voice told me to do both. I boiled some salted water and simmered my lutefisk for awhile before rinsing it and baking it in a 400-degree oven till it was done. Notice that I do not provide cooking times here. As they say, cooking times vary with elevation and appliance types, and I won’t be held responsible for anyone’s undercooked, overcooked or bad-tasting lutefisk.
Old Norwegian joke: What’s the difference between good lutefisk and bad lutefisk? Church attendance.
Flavor? I would almost categorize lutefisk as essentially tasteless. But that would be heresy! How about saltines with the texture of raw oysters. Without salt. Unless you add some salt and pepper yourself, as well as melted butter, to give it some flavor.
No one came by for my lutefisk lunch. But I had three helpings, eating in the living room while watching SportsCenter. Oddly, none of my dogs came over to sniff my plate or beg for a morsel. Guess my training methods are finally working.
Since my dogs wouldn’t eat my leftovers, I deposited them in a plastic bag in my garbage can outside, and sprayed the kitchen and living room with aerosol cleaner to disperse any lingering smell. I then went out and skied a quick 10 kilometers while smoking a cigar and satisfying a sudden craving for pickled herring.
Ten Good Things About Eating Lutefisk
1. Not as bad as people say, and a little goes a long way.
2. Attests to your Scandinavian mettle.
3. Keeps cats away from your door.
4. Leftovers will remove wallpaper.
5. Farts or body odor go undetected.
6. Codfish get their revenge.
7. Someone somewhere makes a killing, shoveling fishy stuff into a bag.
8. Promotes hair growth (especially blond)
9. Turns women into electric blankets of lust turned up to 10.
10. Makes men horny, too, with no need of medical attention for an erection lasting longer than four hours.
- Lutefisk: Minn. Dish Lives on Despite Taste (abcnews.go.com)