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Lutefisk: Should I Try It?

November 19, 2013 | 18 Comments

To the Host:

I am now living in Norway and I am faced with the ultimate question -- Lutefisk: should I try it? I have put it off for two years, should I hold out?

Andy Reeves
Stavanger, Norway


Let's just substitute the word "kale" for Lutefisk -- Kale: I have put it off for two years, should I try it? One: there surely are more important questions in your life that you need to be taking care of -- are you getting enough exercise? Are you consuming too much beer? Have you read enough Dickens? Two: if you have put off eating kale for two years, probably you have built it up in your imagination to the point where it would be impossible for you to enjoy kale. On the other hand, if you go on refusing kale, you might well start to obsess about this and to blame all your other problems on your kalelessness -- your inability to understand algorithms, your awkwardness on the dance floor, your shyness in the presence of lawyers, your confusion about the subjunctive mood -- I say this because your phrase "hold out" shows you already have made this into an issue, not a simple matter of choosing what to eat. I, for example, have not eaten lutefisk in the past two years: avoiding lutefisk is not a problem for me. I stay busy around the holidays so that if someone invites me to a lutefisk dinner, I have an excuse: all my evenings and weekends are spoken for. Anti-lutefiskism has not taken over my life, as it threatens to take over yours. "Put it off"? Mr. Reeves, you write as if you feel an inevitability about lutefisk. As if you have no will of your own. As if something is drawing you inexorably into the dark chasm of lutefisk. You are not, believe me. Even in Stavanger, there are plenty of people who are strangers to lutefisk, who will always prefer the meatballs. The answer to your question is very simple: you will meet a woman and fall in love and either she will be a lutefisk person or she will not, probably depending on whether her family is pro- or con- and you will, at least in the early stages of courtship, follow her lead, especially if she takes you home to meet her parents over the holiday. Either they will serve you this disgusting gelatinous offal or they will not: if they do, you will eat a small portion and smile and say it is the best lutefisk you ever ate. And in your case, that will be true.


The website says that lutefisk is typically served with copious amounts of beer. The dish sounds horrid but I've endured worse for less. Mr. Reeves, I'd say, "Cheers."

Kaleless & Callous, Never Fallacious

If you've never tried kale nor lutefisk
It might be said you're timid, won't take a risk
But maybe you should trust your instinct
And avoid food that does not smell but really does stink.

p.s. Good answer and great word, "kalelessness"!

Just the thought of eating that makes me nauseous. Your answer was spot on as always. I plan my weekend around your makes me happy. I wish I could be on that cruise ship with you.

On the Swedish/American side of this we always hid the lutefisk in white sauce and added mustard. I've eaten this and survived. However, if you really want interesting Scandinavian food you might try Surstromming or Sursild (not sure of my spelling here) which is fermented and/or rotted fish. If that works you might also like gamalost (rotted cheese). Enjoy!

Well, I'd probably try it out of curiosity, but the descriptor"gelatinous" turns me off. However, since I'm in central Texas don't think the opportunity will come up. I'm really excited that I WILL be on the cruise next summer.

Garrison Keillor
Advises on lutefisk:
Eat or eschew?

He counsels much caution, for
Norwegians love it and
Think you will too.

As a granddaughter of Danish immigrants growing up in Nebraska, lutefisk was not a choice, as it was served as part of the Advent celebration at our Lutheran church. But as an adult, I have managed to avoid it.

If you put enough butter on almost anything, I will eat it (and did eat lutefisk that way as a kid).

Eating lutefisk is like eating a football shaped scallop that has hardly any flavor that can't be covered up with a sauce and the texture of which is like warm ice cream.

But how rotten could it possibly get in such a cold country? My refrigerator (which is not so good) is probably warmer.

I am lutefisk-curious. I will try almost any food, but haven't encountered it yet.

I plan to be on the next cruise. Perhaps one late-night snack could be Scandinavian, and include lutefisk?

I grew up in a Swedish household, my father was from Sweden as were my mother's parents. Christmas Eve we always had lutfisk (Swedish spelling). It was in a white sauce and used white pepper for seasoning. I liked it but haven't had any in many years. Try it, you'll never know until you do

My husband used to tell that the people in Norway said they stopped eating lutefisk as soon as refrigeration was invented.

Lutefisk stems from the days when there were no freezers and you still have to store food for the winter. Lutefisk is (when at best) derived from dried cod (and dried food is not so unusual today) which is revived to its "fish"-form.
As any food it can be over-cooked (then there is nothing left) or under-cooked (will be slightly pink and gelatinous).
Perfectly cooked and trimmings like Béchamel sauce (with minced eggs), bacon, green peas, brown cheese and plain potatoes is worth a detour.
To this you can take a glass of red wine or simply a beer (and in Scandinavia you add a snaps).
Don´t bank on that you´ll find it on the cruise ships in the summer. This is a Christmas treat.

Though religiously con-kale, and having tasted kale numerous times in my long life, I must admit to having enjoyed kale exactly twice. The proof is definitely in the puddin', so to speak.

The story was that my grandfather, who immigrated from Sweden in the early 1900’s, used to tie up his family’s Chicago apartment bathtub some weeks before Christmas making lutfisk. The other story is that my grandmother was a rather irritable woman. Perhaps there was a connection.

Thankfully, my aunt (who settled in St. Paul) switched from lutfisk to salmon for the Christmas Eve meat when I was very young so I’ve had the joy of seeking out good salmon dishes for most of my life, as opposed to lutfisk.

And, on a recent trip to Sweden I was served salmon several times and not even offered the fabled dish. My conclusion is that the Atlantic facing Scandinavians must have needed food to take on their voyages that would never spoil, whereas the Baltic folks knew that land was not too far off.

My grandfather did spend some years as a sailor on the Atlantic, so perhaps he was re-introduced to it during that time on a cold winter’s night, washing it down with something stout to drink and was fond of it from that time on.

We Scandinavians all have to find our own lutfisk path. Good luck with yours!

I have never had lutefisk, but I may try it. Per the wikipedia article there are several versions. Making it is not simple, and it can be done badly. It is not an offal.
I have had kale. It's hard to imagine somone could find kale a challenge to eat.

You should definitely try it. When in Rome, and all that. It won't hurt you unless you are allergic, and even if you don't like it, you'll have some good stories.

Then you can visit China and Japan and go for some adventurous foods.

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