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It’s a squamous, glutinous, phosphorescent Christmas eve!

We’ll soon be sitting down to a vegetarian Mediterranean style Christmas dinner at my daughter’s house, but before that, my son Connlann had to revive an old family tradition: he insisted on fixing lutefisk for an appetizer. So he bought some, did the usual salt extraction and soak, and baked it for a half hour (my mother assured me that it is much, much worse boiled — I remember the grey translucent goo from childhood Christmases). In case you’ve never seen it, here’s a platter of the stuff, drenched in melted butter and with some interesting lighting that gives it an appropriate eldritch glow.

lutefisk

Would you eat that? Connlann dug in enthusiastically. He actually seemed to like the stuff.

connlann_lutefisk

Skatje tried a tiny little sliver of it, aided by tissue paper noseplugs — really, this stuff reeks. She didn’t die! But I don’t think she’ll ever eat it again.

skatje-lutefisk

By the way, that’s Alaric smirking in the background. He’d already had a couple of bites, and was only there to crack a Nightstalker stout to wash the taste out of his mouth. I ate a goodly chunk of the palely pellucid processed piscine gelatin…it went down smoothly enough, like boneless slime — but I also welcomed the stout afterwards to thoroughly cleanse the palate.

The downside now, unfortunately, is that Santa will take one whiff of this place and turn around and flee.

Comments

  1. Tony ∞The Queer Shoop∞ says

    Umm thst stuff looks…interesting.
    I’m loving the ‘Robocup’ t shirt.

  2. says

    Lutefisk competes very effectively with my paternal grandfather’s fondness for blood sausage and blood pudding. They both look and smell vile. I assume the taste is vile, too, but Grandpa never got me to try it. He’s been gone for decades now and the hematic comestibles with him. Another family tradition lost!

  3. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    The downside now, unfortunately, is that Santa will take one whiff of this place and turn around and flee.

    Welcome to Dah YooPee Hey…At least the stereotyped version of a Finnish-American.

  4. Crudely Wrott says

    It is with deepening appreciation that I reflect on my immediate ancestor’s dedication to beef, pork and fowl. With occasional lamb for variety. Non-sacrificial, of course.
    Fish was an occasional treat and outside of Ma’s baked makeral or swordfish, was cooked so briefly that it actually retained the appearance, consistency and aroma of fish.

    Question. Is it proper or even useful to put lemon juice and or tarter sauce on lutefisk?

  5. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    The stereotype cartoon had the lutefisk nailed to a tree. Is this possible (never dealt with the stuff in my 15 years in Dah YooPee)?

  6. Crudely Wrott says

    Perhaps lemon and some butter? For camouflage, that is.
    I first heard of lutefisk while reading Lake Wobegon Days back in eighty-something. Keillor’s description put me right off any idea of eating any. Cold water trout cooked on campfires (or under them) for me!

  7. Sandi Fraction says

    The best way to prepare it is baked with a large amount of butter and bacon. Then you put the butter/bacon grease on boiled potatoes to eat after each bite of lutefisk.
    My late mother-in-law was paranoid about parasites in fish, and when I told her how lutefisk was made, it became her favorite fish, on the assumption that worms couldn’t survive that treatment.

  8. yubal says

    We had the vegan option this year: dal, pakoras, aloo parathas, rice, five chutneys and tea.

    The girls are still monitoring the results from the home observatory we built for winter solstice, I hope that keeps up till summer solstice.

    Merry Yule fest ya’ll !!

  9. katkinkate says

    Merry Christmas all!

    Garrison turned me off the idea of lutefisk too. I guess it’s one of those ‘traditional’ foods people use to a) show the world how tough their kind is; b) get laughs out of tricking tourists to try it; c) survival food – during famine times, as long as there’s still some lutefisk in the cupboard everything else you have to eat to survive is bearable.

  10. F [disappearing] says

    … Alaric … was only there to crack a Nightstalker stout to wash the taste out of his mouth

    Uh huh. Are you sure he wasn’t there to sack Rome? Happy Saturnalia!

  11. steve1 says

    Growing up in a family with Norwegian heritage Lutefisk was always a humorous topic that was discussed at Christmas time. I have never eaten it but I have been threatened with it.
    Here is a Lutefisk joke I heard somewhere. The Lutefisk under the porch got rid of the raccoons but now there is a family of Norwegians living under the porch.

  12. brendiggg says

    Could be worse. My wife’s favourite delicacy is a type of fermented bean curd. Take a fresh steaming dog turd and enhance the odour tenfold. I am not lying.

  13. says

    @ brendiggg #21

    Could be worse. My wife’s favourite delicacy is a type of fermented bean curd. Take a fresh steaming dog turd and enhance the odour tenfold. I am not lying.

    Ah, this must be “stinky tofu.” I remember last year on a bus trip from Shanghai to Suzhou we stopped at a mini-mall for a rest stop. I wondered if a sewer line had broken nearby. No such luck – it was the stinky tofu.

  14. Rodney Nelson says

    I was under the impression that lutefisk had been outlawed by international treaty. If not, it should be.

  15. yubal says

    I had stinky tofu before, it actually tastes better than is smells. Still would not recommend it though.

  16. brendiggg says

    This local version called turungbai. It’s a testament to unlimited human weirdness to be able to pack so much stink into such a small parcel and then have the audacity to eat it.

  17. Gnumann+, something borrowed, something gnu... says

    Where’s the potatoes, bacon and mushy peas PZ?
    Most Norwegians use that to make it eatable (the other genuine Norwegian variant, golden syrup and brown cheese is not recommended – my personal recommendation is also to never ever make mushy peas from anything other than fresh or frozen petit pois).

    Personally, I find lutefisk just a waste of clipfish (the unlyed precursor that’s a far better produce). It’s not bad, it’s just uninteresting. Nothing anybody would eat unless his clipfish went bad and he needed to wash the gunk of with lye.

    Next year try the genuine stinky Norwegian fish delicacy instead (both more stinky and better tasting): Rakfisk

  18. sosw says

    Although wikipedia claims it’s the same food, there must be a pretty big difference between the kind of lutefisk described by people here and the lipeäkala I’m familiar with. While it looks the same and seems to have the same consistency, in my experience it has pretty much no odor or taste and is merely a good excuse to pour lots of white gravy and melted butter over it and some potatoes.

  19. hamsterWare says

    I remember getting a ridiculous amount of attention for asking for seconds of lutefisk at a Sons of Norway dinner sometime in the early nineties. No one could believe that a small child would willingly go anywhere near the stuff, let alone want more. I still think it’s pretty good, but it definitely needs butter. And you’d better be a big fan of fish (and preferably other weird flavors, like salmiak/strong cheese/possibly non-food items…). Since I’m the only one in my family who likes it and the masochistic ritual of eating it despite hating it seems to have died out with my grandparents’ generation, however, it’s safe to say that this year we’re having krumkake and lefse galore but no lutefisk.

  20. howardpeirce says

    Squamous means scaly, which lutefisk certainly isn’t. Perhaps you meant “rugose”?

    So, a couple of months ago, I found myself at the yuppie Krogers in Ft. Thomas, KY. As I worked my way past the bakery and wine shop, a peculiar odor caught my nose, from the Ye Olde Cheese Shoppe some thirty yards away. I followed my nose, to discover that some hill-bourgeoisie had ordered a case of appelation eppoisses de bourgnoine and neglected to pick it up.

    The stink was so bad that the local Krogers had marked it down 90% in an effort to get it out of the store.

    This is the story of how I purchased 500 ml of the queen of cheeses for 9.00 USD.

    And the thing is, when you work up the courage to crack the culture-smeared, pomace-washed rind of the queen of cheeses, you are hit with the freshness of the salty sea and of ancient fir forests. Bury your face in it and revel, scoop some onto toasty bread.

    So, Vikings around the world, give me your lutefisk. For I have eaten the cheese of queens, and smelt the feet of angels. Do your worst.

  21. Gnumann+, something borrowed, something gnu... says

    Sosw: A lot of the difference could be expectation. From my outside-view there’s a lot of expectations of lutefisk in the Norwegian-Americans that I personally don’t find in Norway or in the dish itself.
    And of course, if you eat it without any sides the smell and the taste would be more prominent.

    Either that, or they just get bad fish. I don’t know what the supply looks like. Makers in my neck of the woods stress the importance of using premium clipfish in the production (oh, the waste!). Of course they might be lying to increase prices.

  22. Nakkustoppeli says

    sosw,

    Odorless? Hardly. Lipeäkala/lutfisk in Finland does smell quite strongly. It’s true that it is close to tasteless by itself. The taste comes from white gravy and allspice. The fish may modify and make the taste of allspice rounder though.

    It’s not like the l-fish is the only thing we eat that’s tasteless by itself. For instance, uncooked and unspiced beef is also nearly tasteless.

  23. says

    I’m glad to see younger generations of Myers trying out horrible traditions of their elders! Connlann and Skatje get the XP though perhaps Alaric shows the better parcel of sense. Happy monkey, Paul and Mary and family!

  24. Socio-gen, something something... says

    And this, I suspect, is the reason one cannot find good pizza in Minnesota (or the western part anyway; I haven’t tried any in the Cities yet.). The taste buds of the natives have been permanently damaged by eating this…stuff.

    It may also explain the fondness for jello in these parts….all the wiggly goodness with none of the smell?

  25. unclescott says

    The power of lutefisk

    Lutefisk” is an infamous Norwegian dish composed of fish soaked in lye. Want to know more?

    It is my wont when travelling to forgo the touristic in favor of the real, to pesuade my kind hosts, whoever they may be, that an evening in the local, imbibing pints of whatever the natives use as intoxicants, would be more interesting than another espresso in another place called Cafe Opera. Chiefest among my interests is the Favorite Dish: the plate, cup, or bowl of whatever stuff my hosts consider most representative of the regions virtues. As I just finished a week’s work in Oslo, this dish was of course lutefisk
    The Norwegians are remarkably single-minded in their attachment to the stuff. Every one of them would launch themselves into a hydrophobic The Power of Lutefisk
    “frenzy of praise on the mere mention of the word. Though these panegyrics were as varied as they were fulsome, they shared one element in common. Every testimonial to the recondite deliciousness of cod soaked in lye ended with the phrase “…but I only eat it once a year.”
    When I pressed my hosts as to why they would voluntarily forswear what was by all accounts the tastiest fish dish since pussy 364 days a year, each of them said “Oh, you can’t eat lutefisk more than once a year.” (Their unanmity on this particular point carried with it the same finality as the answers you get when casually asking a Scientologist about L. Ron’s untimely demise.)
    Despite my misgivings from these interlocutions however, there was nothing for it but to actually try the stuff, as it was clearly the local delicacy. A plan was hatched whereby my hosts and I would distill ourselves to a nearby brasserie, and I would order something tame like reindeer steak, and they would order lutefisk. The portions at this particular establishment were large, they assured me, and when I discovered for myself how scrumptious jellied fish tasted, I could have an adequate amount from each of their plates to satiate my taste for this new-found treat.
    Ah, but the best laid plans… My hostess, clearly feeling in a holiday mood (and perhaps further cheered by my immanent departure as their house guest) proceeded to order lutefisks all round.
    “But I was going to order reinde…”
    “Nonononono,” she said, “you must have your own lutefisk. It would be rude to bring you to Norway and not give you your own lutefisk.”
    My mumbled suggestion that I had never been one to stand on formality went unnoticed, and moments later, somewhere in the kitchen, there was a lutefisk with my name on it.
    The waitress, having conveyed this order to the chef, returned with a bottle and three shot glasses and spent some time interogating my host. He laughed as she left, and I asked what she said.
    “Oh she said ‘Is the American really going to eat lutefisk?’ and when I told her you were, she said that it takes some time to get used to it.”
    “How long?” I asked.
    “Well, she said a couple of years.” replied my host.
    In the meantime, my hostess was busily decanting a clear liquid into the shot glass and passing it my way. When I learned that it was aquavit, I demurred, as I intended to get some writing done on the train.
    “Oh no,” said my hostess, donning the smile polite people use when giving an order, “you must have aquavit with lutefisk.”
    To understand the relationship between aquavit and lutefisk, here’s an experiment you can do at home. In addition to aquavit, you will need a slice of lemon, a cracker, a dishtowel, ketchup, a piece of lettuce, some caviar, and a Kit-Kat candy bar.
    1. Take a shot aquavit.
    2. Take two. (They’re small.)
    3. Put a bit of caviar on a bit of lettuce.
    4. Put the lettuce on a cracker.
    5. Squeeze some lemon juice on the caviar.
    6. Pour some ketchup on the Kit-Kat bar.
    7. Tie the dishtowel around your eyes.
    If you can taste the difference between caviar on a cracker and ketchup on a Kit-Kat while blindfolded, you have not had enough aquavit to be ready for lutefisk. Return to step one.
    The first real sign of trouble was when a plate arrived and was set in front of my host, sitting to my left. It contained a collection of dark and aromatic food stuffs of a variety of textures. Having steeled myself for an encounter with a pale jelly, I was puzzled at its appearance, and I leaned over to get a better look.
    “Oh,” said my host, “that’s not lutefisk. I changed my mind and ordered the juletid plate. Its is pork and sausages.”
    “But you’re leaving for New York tomorrow, so tonight is your last chance to have lutefisk this year” I pointed out.
    “Oh well,” he said, tucking into what looked like a very tasty pork chop.
    Shortly thereafter the two remaining plates arrived, each containing the lutefisk itself, boiled potatoes, and a mash of peas from which all the color had been expertly tortured. There was also a garnish of a slice of cucumber, a wedge of lemon, and a sliver of red pepper.
    “This is bullshit!” said my hostess, snatching the garnish off her plate.
    “What’s wrong,” I asked, “not enough lemon?”
    “No, a plate of lutefisk should be totally gray!”
    Indeed, with the removal of the garnish, it was totally gray, and waiting for me to dig in. There being no time like the present, I tore a forkful away from the cod carcass and lifted it to my mouth.
    “Wait,” said my host, “you can’t eat it like that!”
    “OK,” I said, “how should I eat it?”
    “Mash up your potatoes, and then mix a bit of lutefisk in, and then add some bacon.” he said, handing me a tureen filled to the brim with bacon bits floating in fat.
    I began to strain some of the bits out of the tureen. “No, not like that, like this” he said, snatching up the tureen and pouring three fingers of pure bacon grease directly over the beige mush I had made from the potatoes and lutefisk already on my plate.
    “Now can I eat it?”
    “No, not yet, you have to mix in the mustard.”
    “And the pepper” added my hostess, “you have to have lutefisk with lots and lots of pepper. And then you have to eat it right away, because if it gets cold its horrible.”
    They proceeded to add pepper and mustard in amounts I felt were more apporpriate to ingredients rather than flavors, but no matter. At this point what I had was an undercooked hash brown with mustard on it, flavored with a little bit of lutefisk. “How bad could it be?” I thought to myself as I lifted my fork to my mouth.
    The moment every traveller lives for is the native dinner where, throwing caution to the wind and plunging into a local delicacy which ought by rights to be disgusting, one discovers that it is not only delicious but that it also contradicts a previously held prejudice about food, that it expands ones culinary horizons to include surprising new smells, tastes, and textures.
    Lutefisk is not such a dish.
    Lutefisk is instead pretty much what you’d expect of jellied cod; it is a foul and odiferous goo, whose gelatinous texture and rancid oily taste are locked in spirited competition to see which can be the more responsible for rendering the whole completely inedble.
    How to describe that first bite? Its a bit like describing passing a kidneystone to the uninitiated. If you are talking to someone else who has lived through the experience, a nod will suffice to acknowledge your shared pain, but to explain it to the person who has not been there, mere words seem inadequate to the task. So it is with lutefisk. One could bandy about the time honored phrases like “nauseating sordid gunk”, “unimaginably horrific”, “lasting psychological damage”, but these seem hollow when applied to the task at hand. I will have to resort to a recipe for a kind of metaphorical lutefisk, to describe the experience. Take marshmallows made without sugar, blend them together with overcooked Japanese noodles, and then bathe the whole liberally in acetone. Let it marinate in cod liver oil for several days at room temprature. When it has achieved the appropriate consistency (though the word “appropriate” is somewhat problematic here), heat it to just above lukewarm, sprinkle in thousands of tiny, sharp, invisible fish bones, and serve.
    The waitress, returning to clear our plates, surveyed the half-eaten goo I had left.
    She nodded conspiritorially at me, said something to my host, and left.
    “What’d she say?, I asked.
    “Oh, she said ‘I never eat lutefisk either. It tastes like python.’”

    Clay “I think my mistake was in using the dishtowel: you need to drink enough aquavit so you can’t tell the difference between caviar on a cracker and ketchup on a Kit-Kat with your eyes open” Shirky

    Happy Holidays to All

  26. naflrigdlab says

    My paternal grandparents were Swedish immigrants who came to the USA in the 1920’s.

    For much of my youth and young adulthood it was traditional for my grandmother to make lutefisk at least once a year. As far as I know my father always participated in the meal as well as all of his brothers and one sister.

    I only joined in once. That was enough.

    I cannot recall anything I specifically disliked about it but the fact I never found it necessary to eat it again might be a clue.

  27. cag says

    The only part of lutfisk(Swedish spelling) that had any appeal for me as a child was sawing it into pieces just as you would do with a piece of lumber. Nerd #6, yes it could be nailed. My mom would soak the lutfisk in many changes of water and on the fateful day (fortunately the big meal if the 24’th contained no lutfisk) as soon as the odour started to waft into the area I was in, I and my siblings were out of there.

    I notice that lutfisk is now available in the frozen section so none of the soaking. At age 70, I still have not tasted lutfisk and have no plans to change my status.

  28. birgerjohansson says

    Lutefish and fermented herring are firmly in the “acquired taste” category.
    But you are not expected to eat just one kind of dish, in my family there is usually sausage, pickled herring and Absolut to go with it.
    The pig’s trotters dish are usually not eaten by the current generation. Or the generation before them. Some traditions meet Darwin and perish.

  29. M31 says

    When I first saw the picture of Skatje I thought she was wearing lutefisk noseplugs. I know she’s a remarkable child but on reading the text I was relieved to see she’s not that remarkable.

  30. kennet says

    Having both been a craft bartender and read through a third of unclescott’s (suspect length) post, I thought I might offer this up to you all for the season.

    Akvavit Sour

    2oz Akvavit
    .75 oz lemon juice
    1 oz simple syrup (1:1)
    white of one egg.

    Combine in shaker and shake without ice. Then add ice and shake again. Strain into glass without ice.

  31. DLC says

    Alaric : had lutefisk then demanded Ale to blow the taste out of his mouth.
    PZ: had lutefisk then demanded Ale to blow the taste out of his mouth.

    I realize it’s only two data points, but it seems fairly easy to spot a trend here. They invented Lutefisk so as to have a reason to drink !

  32. DLC says

    Oh. I noticed the pyrex baking pan. let me guess, it’ll go through anything less than lab glass ?

  33. rwgate says

    Crudely Wrott @4

    There is only one thing to put on lutefisk…dirt. About 12″ of dirt, and a tomato plant.

    Happy Winter Solstice!

  34. says

    there is a church at Snelling and Grand,or around there,in St Paul where they stand in line for the “Lutti” dinner.maybe you have to be religious to enjoy it.

  35. eoleen says

    Obviously lutfisk is an acquired taste. I acquired it at my Grandmother’s dinner table. She used to travel – by bus and subway, a round trip of 4 or 5 hours – from Yonkers, NY to an area on the border of Brooklyn and Queens NYC, NY, to buy some of the ingredients – exactly which ones I was much to young to understand. At any rate, it was a staple on her dining table.

    I started eating it at age four or thereabouts. My greatest regret at her death (at the ripe old age of 89 – Northern Swedes are a hardy race) was that my mother (NOT of Swedish extraction) had never learned to make it. In fact, she refused to be in the same building with it: she somehow always managed to have some other, most urgent, errand to run when it was served.

    Alas and alack – making lutfisk is an art on the brink of death, if not already expired. The REAL lutfisk does have a rather unique odor and taste, but really, it is quite good, if properly made.

    Absolut, Mead, or other alcoholic beverages are NOT required in order to enjoy it. In fact, being half potted (three shots of Mead will do it) (Mead is fermented honey: very smooth but with a deadly kick. The rumor that it is, at the most, 36 proof is most definitely false. The real stuff is brewed and then distilled to “get rid of the excess water…”) (During prohibition the Swedish community was never short of beverages. We did do a lot of cooking with honey…)

    Alas, Granny’s cookbook had disappeared by the time I was old enough to be able to make my own, and my attempts to recreate her recipe have failed: yes, my product is rather offensive. Make that very offensive. Almost as bad as the stuff described. But I still have the memories of sitting at the dining table with my father and uncles and grandfather and some other relatives – relationship unknown – eating as much as they would let me have… Our burps (well, not mine) we more alcoholic than lutfisky, but my mother would make me sit on the other side of the car from here, with the window wide open, all the way home – a distance of some 150 miles. Even in the dead of winter.