Tuesday, November 11, 2008

How to make Lutefisk

With the Holidays coming up I think it's time to educate all you non-ScandiHOOvians on traditional holiday food in a ScandiHOOvian household. It dawned on me the other day that some of you may not even know what Lutefisk is. Well, guess what? I'm here to educate you today - you lucky son-of-a-guns!

Now lutefisk is not easy to love, or even like - take my word for it. What's more, it's certainly not easy to explain. It's actually cod fish caught in the cold water of the North Atlantic that is hung over wooden racks to dry until it tinkles in the breezes like a crystal wind chime. It can be kept indefinitely in this manner, and sometimes is. When one gets the urge to eat lutefisk, it's soaked in water for a number of days, then in a lye solution - yes - I said LYE - and then in water again. If you're a commercial dealer you then package it and sell it to "customers" who bring it home and either boil it or bake it, loaded with butter.
Why a soak in lye solution, you ask? The lye breaks down the dried cell walls and allows them to absorb water, which turns this fish into a gel-like mass that wiggles like white jello. MOST ScandiHOOvians go crazy over this, but not this one.

When I was a kid lutefisk was a Christmas tradition. And at that time you bought your lutefisk still in the dried form. Nowadays, the commercial processors do all that rehydrating for you. You can buy a white mass of gelatinous lutefisk already wrapped in cellophane on a styrofoam tray, ready to bring home to cook and smell up your house. My mother would start looking for "good" lutefisk weeks prior to Christmas so that she could spend two weeks soaking and washing and soaking and washing so it would be ready to prepare on Christmas Eve. My Mom, Dad and older sister drooled over this stuff as it was being prepared, anticipating putting the wiggly, smelly stuff in their mouth and savoring it. My brother and I would run to the farthest point in the house and hide our heads under blankets trying to keep the noxious smell from invading our nostrils. Then we would have to actually sit at the table and watch this jelly-like substance be consumed while we tried not to gag. The rule at our house was that you "had to at least try it." And year after year we would choke down the tiniest morsel and try not to throw it back up.

Your can probably guess that as an adult, no lutefisk has EVER crossed the threshold of MY house!!

When Ole and I lived in Iceland we discovered that fishing for cod was the main industry. You could drive for miles and see fish racks hanging full of drying cod tinkling in the breezes. One of Ole's goals while we lived there was to go out on one of the fishing boats, and we were fortunate enough to have a landlord whose brother was a fishing boat owner.

So one weekend Ole and a buddy were invited to go on a fishing trip in the North Atlantic. Now mind you, this is not at all like going fishing on one of the Minnesota lakes. They went out on a 32-ton round-bottomed fishing boat where on a good day the waves are only 6 feet high. The North Atlantic is not exactly what you call hospitable. And with a round bottom, it only enhances the rolling effect. Ole said he spent a lot of time in the bunk eating crackers. The buddy that went along had spent a lot of time on smaller Navy ships so had a pretty good set of sea legs.

Now, these fishermen work hard when they go to sea - and it was quite evident that when they are not at sea they party pretty hard too. The fishing boat was scheduled to leave port at midnight, and apparently the Captain had been enjoying himself prior to this. Ole said the captain had been imbibing to the point where he couldn't drive a car, so he rode up to the dock on a horse, jumped off, took over the helm (is that the right word - the steering wheel whatever that is in nautical terms), stuck his head out the window, and without looking at any radar or maps, drove that boat for 12 hours straight out to his fishing nets. Guess his head should have been clear by that time, huh?

And then the work began. Ole was told when they returned to port that the Albert (the boat he was on) had the biggest catch ever - so apparently the Albert's guests brought them luck.

Here - take a ride on the round-bottomed fishing boat with Ole. I'll make sure he brings enough soda crackers and a barf bucket for you! Oh, yah, make sure you turn off the music up on my little jukebox thingie because this little video has a very special song that goes with it. Listen close, okay?

It took Ole two days before he got his land legs back again - it was funny to watch him walking like he was still on the rolling deck of the Albert.
Ta-Da . . . Hope you have a great day


Anonymous said...

Ugh. That sounds absolutely disgusting! I bet that's one of those smells that lingers around your house foever, too.

Melanie aka junkmel

cosmic said...

I forgot my speakers were on. Your Polka just about knocked me out of the chair!! lol

Shear said...

ummm...your lutefisk. yeah. Betcha a dollar bill that I wouldn't even try to taste that stuff. I don't get how they can eat fish that was dried outside on a stick, soak it in lye (poison?), rinse and repeat just to have some white snot-like consistency ... oh my God... I'm making myself sick.

Have a great day, Lena! Love you, love your blog!

boxx said...

My best friend is Sweedish. She bakes the best cokies at Christmas time. Do you have any dessert recipes?

Carolyn said...

"shudder" That sounds so awful! It's funny how certain smells can bring your childhood crashing back. For me, it's fried okra. It's nasty slimy stuff too.

Susan said...

When we first moved to northern WI we actually searched for a restaurant that served lutefisk. My husband is Norwegian but had never eaten it and being German, I had not heard of it. We sort of enjoyed it, but when the big Norwegian asked me to make it at home one year, the smell of it cooking was horrible and stayed in the house for weeks. That was the last time we ate lutefisk!

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