My wife was born in Minnesota and has a Norwegian heritage.  Every heritage and culture is known for its history, traditions, and often – food.  So what are Norwegians known for?

About all I can come up with is:

1.  The Vikings

2.  They talk funny

One thing they are not known for (at least favorably) is their cuisine.  I mean, when is the last time you saw a Viking restaurant?

Sara has an aunt and uncle that live a few miles away from us and wanted us to share in the traditional Norwegian Christmas feast – Lutefisk (pronounced “loot a fisk”).  Unless you are from the upper Midwest (or Scandinavia) you have probably never heard of this, so let me explain.  Note:  any food that needs an “explanation” should automatically raise a caution flag.

Lutefisk starts out as perfectly normal whitefish or cod.  What happens next would probably be protested by PETA if they knew about it.  This is an expert from a website I found on Lutefisk.  I am not embellishing, this is direct quote.

Lutefisk is made from dried whitefish (normally ling, but cod is also used), prepared with lye, in a sequence of particular treatments. The watering steps of these treatments differ slightly for salted/dried whitefish because of its high salt content.

The first treatment is to soak the stockfish in cold water for five to six days (with the water changed daily). The saturated stockfish is then soaked in an unchanged solution of cold water and lye for an additional two days. The fish swells during this soaking and its protein content decreases by more than 50 percent, producing its famous jelly-like consistency. When this treatment is finished, the fish (saturated with lye) has a pH value of 11–12, and is therefore caustic. To make the fish edible, a final treatment of yet another four to six days of soaking in cold water (also changed daily) is needed. Eventually, the lutefisk is ready to be cooked.

In Finland, the traditional reagent used is birch ash. It contains high amounts of potassium carbonate and hydrocarbonate, giving the fish a more mellow treatment than would sodium hydroxide (lyestone). It is important to not incubate the fish too long in the lye, because saponification of the fish fats may occur, effectively rendering the fish fats into soap. The term for such spoiled fish in Finnish is saippuakala (soap fish).


Let me summarize.  This is a fish that takes on a jelly-like consistency, is caustic, requires special treatment to become edible, is intentionally stripped of its nutritional value, and turns into soap if its treatment isn’t timed just right.  All of the sudden Twinkies look like health food.

After it is cooked, the fish is mercifully served over mashed potatoes and covered in a white cream.  The fish itself looks like translucent, gelatinous cabbage.  The taste is VERY fishy.  I don’t like fishy tasting fish, but if you do, it might not be that bad.  The kicker is the consistency.  Imagine a killer whale’s phlegm after it just had a huge herring dinner coughed up on your dinner plate.  If that doesn’t work, try fish Jell-o that hasn’t been refrigerated quite long enough to completely congeal.  I have no idea why people would choose to subject their palates to this culinary atrocity.

I had my Lutefisk experience and will stick to turkey and dressing for now on.  I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and wish you a happy and safe New Year.  Now I just need to find some hog jowl, black-eyed peas, and mustard greens (you Southerners will understand).