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Lutefisk and other Holiday Traditions


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My parents and my brother had lutefisk for Christmas day dinner. With lefse. And lots of meleted butter.

For many people of Scandinavian heritage, it's a Christmas time tradition. Every year for the big holiday dinner on my dad's side of the family, all the aunts and uncles and cousins gathered at one house, and one of the aunts prepared lutefisk and lefse, usually between Christmas and New Year's.

At our house, I served turkey and ham, as I am the only one who will go near lutefisk willingly, much less eat it. Actually, it doesn't have any flavor, except whatever sauce (as in melted butter, hot bacon fat with chopped bacon, or white sauce) you put on it, but few people who weren't raised eating it can get past the (a) aroma (b) texture to find out what it tastes like. A few of my braver friends have tried it, though, when I've made it for lodge dinners.

Here's what it looks like prepared:

Actually, that's how it looks prepared really nicely, as in a restaurant. At home, it often is not quite so full looking.... an extra minute or two in the steam or hot water will turn it first to shreds, then rather gluey... It's a tricky dish.


For the Scandinavian immigrants, it was a taste of home. Stockfish (air-dried cod) was easy to ship, and basically, lasts forever unless it gets wet, yet retains all its fish nutrient value. As stockfish, it looks something like an organic shingle, and is just as tough.

The stockfish is reconsituted in a bath of edible lye water, then soaked and rinsed till ready and voila... "fresh" lutefisk...It now has the texture of jello wigglers, but looks just like a fresh codfish, just shiny and kind of translucent. And, it's ready to be gently oven-steamed, or more commonly, boiled in a cheescloth bag. Some modern cooks even microwave it with a little water, but that's even trickier, cause you can't see it, and again, it's easy to wreck it and turn it to mushy organic glue if you're too aggressive.


Getting ready for the holidays for us meant a trip to the market for a big chunk of "fresh" lutefisk, recently shipped down from Minneapolis. Only a handful of lutefisk processors remain in the U.S. today, probably because most young people will pass on the lutefisk.... rather than ask it to be passed their way. :)



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