Posted by: rbbadger | November 8, 2008

Almost time for Lutefisk

Being in Korea, I have had more than my share of dried fish.  However, it is generally delicious and quite good for you.  If you listen to Garrison Keillor at all, you will hear his reference to that one dish often identified with Finland, Sweden and Norway, namely lutefisk.  Traditional Swedish cooking, at least when concerns winter fare, is often centred around the concept of starvation.  You have to have things that will keep during the long and brutal Swedish winters.  And lutefisk is one such dish that will keep.  According to Garrison Keillor, it is a dish so revolting that wild animals won’t touch it.

I am proud to be the descendant of Swedish people who came to America’s shores during the great migrations of the 19th century.  Half of the population of Sweden ended up in America during that time.  Some Swedish-Americans, especially those who ended up in the Midwest, retain the practices of eating lutefisk.  I am glad, however, that we don’t retain that tradition, at least in our family.  The Danes, being in a slightly warmer place, never did adopt the practice and were smart not to.

Lutefisk is made from cod which is dried out in a solution of lye and water.  (Yes, the same caustic substance which can potentially kill you.)  It comes to have the consistency of jelly.  Eventually it is reconstituted, generally steam cooked, and is ready to be served.  I tasted it once in a Scandinavian restaurant and found it to be really disgusting.  I suppose, though, that it is good to connect with one’s ancestors, but this particular aspect of Swedishness is one that I’m not too keen to embrace.

You can read more about lutefisk here.

“Lutefisk is the Norwegians’ attempt at conquering the world. When they discovered that Viking raids didn’t give world supremacy, they invented a meal so terrifying, so cruel, that they could scare people to become one’s subordinates. And if I’m not terribly wrong, you will be able to do it as well.”
-Jeffrey Steingarten

“Every Advent we entered the purgatory of lutefisk, a repulsive gelatinous fishlike dish that tasted of soap and gave off an odor that would gag a goat. We did this in honor of Norwegian ancestors, much as if survivors of a famine might celebrate their deliverance by feasting on elm bark. I always felt the cold creeps as Advent approached, knowing that this dread delicacy would be put before me and I’d be told, “Just have a little.” Eating a little was like vomiting a little, just as bad as a lot.”

Garrison Keillor

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