Christmas brings many joys, and one of them is the classic Norwegian Lutefisk dish. In Norway we tend to eat this dish in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Either by making it ourselves and serving it to family and friends, or you can also get it in most restaurants which have Christmas food on their menu.
Why I Love to Eat Lutefisk
So what makes Lutefisk so special, and how come it has gotten a bit of a bad reputation? Continue reading and I’ll try explain and give you some insight into this traditional Norwegian dish and why I love eating it.
What is Lutefisk?
Lutefisk is basically air-dried and aged stockfish, or made from dried and salted cod which has been cured in lye. Lut (lye), fisk (fish) = Lutefisk.
From being soaked in lye the fish gets a bit of a gelatinous texture, and got a quite characteristic odor which is hard to describe. I bet that does not sound too appetizing? But remember that a good cheese for instance often does not smell so nice either.
I won’t get too much into detail when it comes to the “curing” process of the fish. The reason for that is that most Norwegians buy lutefisk ready made in the store. All you have to do is to cook it, which can be quite a challenge in terms of achieving a good result. Read more about that below.
A Lutefisk legend
Why and when we started to make lutefisk in Norway is unknown. However, it’s an old dish, and there are written sources as far back as 1555 describing it. It’s important to keep in mind that the Norwegian cuisine is known for a range of food preserving techniques. This was an important skill back in the days when there was no refrigeration, and long winters with little or no access to fresh food.
A legend says that once upon a time there was a storage of dried fish that was struck by lightning and caught fire. The dried fish that was left in the ashes got wet in the following rain storm. Ash is an alkali and dissolves with water. Back then they ate most things that had not gone bad, so probably they just took the fish (which had been marinated in ash), washed it properly and then ate it. The lutefisk was born!
Who eats Lutefisk?
You would hardly meet a Norwegian saying “I grew up eating lutefisk”. All though there was a time when lutefisk was often served as the main meal on Christmas eve, and the kids had no choice but to dig in, this is rarely the case anymore.
Personally I did not eat it until I was in my early twenties, but slowly over the years I have developed a “passion” and liking for it. As mentioned above people do make it in their homes, or they eat it out at restaurants.
How to eat Lutefisk
To Norwegians, what you serve with the fish is almost more important than the fish itself. The garnish will differ slightly from one household/restaurant to the other, but in general you could expect this to be served with the fish:
- Hard boiled potatoes
- Bacon and bacon sauce
- Mushy peas
- A white sauce or a mustard sauce (not always)
- Strong mustard
- Shredded brown cheese
I’m aware that in North America meatballs is sometimes served together with lutefisk, but that would never happen in Norway. In addition you’d need a Christmas ale and possibly a small glass of aquavit. See picture below from a lutefisk dinner I had at Café Engebret in Oslo.
It’s all about the right amount of salt(!)
There are many horror stories about lutefisk, and some would not even come close to it. Perhaps they were force fed lutefisk when they were kids, or perhaps they went to a dinner party and were stuck with a poorly cooked fish they had to eat. The latter is often the reason. To cook lutefisk takes some practice, and in order to avoid the fish either becoming too dry or transforming into a fish jelly on the plate you need to first add the right amount of salt.
The salt is added before cooking the fish, and it will regulate the amount of liquid. As a general rule (in my kitchen) I add ONE tablespoon of salt for every 1 kilo or 2.2 pounds of fish. You basically just sprinkle the salt over fish, and let it stand cold for 30 minutes or so. Water will then come out of the fish, and after the thirty minutes I wrap them in tin foil and bake them in the oven on 200c/395f for about 40-45 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish filets.
Don’t expect to be an expert on the first try. “Øvelse gjør mester”, practice make a master as we say in Norwegian.
Anyways, make sure to try out this dish if you visit Norway during Christmas. God Jul and good luck!
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