Lutefisk – Nordic traditional Yule dish

There are still more Christmas food to explore from the Nordic countries. These are traditions from thousands of years back and an important part of celebrating the winter solstice. Today I will serve you Lutefisk. It’s made from stockfish (air-dried whitefish) and lye. In Sweden, this food is called lutfisk, omitting the medial ‘e’. In Finland the same dish is known as lipeäkala. The direct translation is lye fish, owing to the fact it is made with caustic soda or potash lye.

Lutefisk is usually served with a variety of side dishes, including, but not limited to, bacon, green pea stew, potatoes, meatballs, gravy, mashed rutabaga, white sauce, syrup, geitost (goat cheese), or “old” cheese (gammelost). Especially in the US (a lot of Nordic people in the Upper Midwest you know!), it is usually eaten with lefse. Even if the common denominator is lutefisk, side dish varies greatly from family to family and region to region and is a theme of recurring controversy when different “traditions” of lutefisk-eaters meet and eat together. Let me serve you the way I like it (with aquavit and beer of course) and then give the recipes:

How to make it:
Saw the fish in suitably sized pieces or leave it whole. Put in water. Leave in water in a cool place for 5-6 days if cut in pieces, 8 days if the fish is whole. Change the water every day.
For the luting use a plastic or stainless steel or enamelled tub (the enamel must be unchipped). Wooden vessels, china or stoneware may also be used.
Place the fish in the tub with the skin side up. Dissolve caustic soda in the water, pour over the fish until covered complete by lut water. Leave the fish in a cold place for 3-4 days.
When the fish is completely luted, it will be well swollen and you should be able to put a finger through it. Rinse the fish and leave in cold water 4-6 days. Change water every day.
If the fish stays in water for too long after the luting it may be soft and difficult to boil. When you boil it, it might also get even softer. My American wife has found a way to avoid that as she ‘bakes’ the fish in the oven. Before it goes in, it looks like this:

You may also click her to find The UNofficial Lutefisk Website:-)
So now you’ve had some of our traditional Yule and Christmas dishes (scroll down if you haven’t had it all!). There are more though as I haven’t served our Christmas Day smorgasbord yet. So stay tuned and if you’re still hungry, there will be more traditions and food in a few days!

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  1. Wish I could join you for all these Norwegian delicacies. Your pictures make my mouth water! Happy New Year!

  2. What a lot of meat. I suppose in Canada we eat more meat on special occasions than normal too.

    Happy New year!

  3. I’d like the meatballs but I’m afraid I don’t do fish…and I know it’s healthy for me, but I just don’t like it. Bring on Prime rib and Turkey!

    You sure take a lot of care and enjoyment in your meals! Does Diane like all these dishes too? What’s her favourite?

  4. My great Grampa was from Stavanger, so we used to open some gifts on christmas eve AND eat things like lutefisk. I prefer krumkake myself :)

  5. I don’t think I could “make” this fish, let alone eat it…! The preparation time alone is very very time consuming and how careful one must be using ‘lye’…It sounds deeply danderous to me..(LOL)
    Now the meatballs….THAT’S another srory! Yummmmm!
    But back to the Lutefisk…I hope it is tasty after all the time it takes to get it ready for cooking…!

  6. I am starving and that plate of lutefisk looks delicious, Renny! I’ve never had it, but I think I would like it. I like most any fish or and most seafood.

    For some reason, I always leave here hungry, LOL. ;D

    Best wishes for a happy and joyous New Year to you, Diane and your family, Renny! :-)

  7. @Barbara: Wishing you the same and glad you liked it!

    @Pearl: I think N & C has a lot in common yes. Happy New Year to you too!

    @MotherOfInvention: Okay then, you can have the meatballs for me!
    Yes Diane does and this is her favorite!

    @Liza: Good, then we are two of a kind:-)

    @KaraokeQueen: It’s great to have people with Norwegian roots visiting and we are lucky to be able to open the present at Christmas Eve of course.
    Krumkake is my favorite too!

    @OldOldLadyOfTheHills: Well, actually you can by it fixed and ready in the grocery nowadays. So no dangerous process needed if you don’t want too LoL

    @Diane: Wish I could send you some over! Joyous New Year to you and your family too!

    @Artist: Glad you liked it and you know it will be more soon!

  8. Hm… I remember my father eating lutfisk when I was young, but no one else in my family wanted it. Though my mother did boil it. To put it in the owen sounds much better.

    I didn’t take any photos, but I wrote a post about Swedish xmas traditions.

  9. Looks delicious! We have a Lutheran church that does a big lutefisk and meatball dinner every year. We try to make it as often as we can. I’d rather have someone else prepare the lutefisk as I remember the odors it used to permeate our home with. Thanks for sharing. I have to try mashed rutebagas now. That sounds yummy. Is it just rutebaga or is there milk or butter or cheese in it? Our grandmother made oyster stew on Christmas Eve. Is that a traditional Norwegian food?

  10. Yesterday, we too had Lutefisk for the second time in 5 days. It’s so good to have fish after all the traditional christmas meatdishes. And of course, we choose something traditional for the season. We will be away during the next days, but hope to find a internet-connection somewhere….

  11. Hi Renny! I hope you and your family are enjoying the holidays. I’m happy to see that you’re enjoying a nice feast at least! Thanks for your nice comments – I’m also anxious for snow. I wish you a very happy and healthy new year, my friend. XXOO

  12. That is pretty cool. I didn’t realize other cultures cooked with lye. I am aware of the Chinese preparing 1000 year old duck eggs by covering them with lye, but I did not think people actually put the lye in contact with the actual food.

    I remember a friend of mine making ice pickles – a bluish colour pickled, prepared by marinating them in a solution of copper sulphate.

  13. @Mrs Lifecruiser: Try it my wife’s way yes!
    Your xMas post is a great read – go see everyone!

    @Balou: What a great church tradition! The rutabaga is with milk/cream and butter.
    Oysters is great but not very traditional i Norway.

    @j3: Great to welcome new readers and glad you liked the food too.

    @TorAa: Hmmm lucky you!
    Hope you get your broad band connection at home soon:-)

    @Lisa: We are doing great and glad yo do too!
    From all of me to all of you: Happy New Year my friend:-)

    @Richard: Glad you learned something new from the post then:-) The pickles sounds delicious.

    @Chrysalis: Another new reader – welcome back any time!

  14. Happy new year, Renny,I post from Egypt, it s too cool now to stay at the beach I try to write from time to time, here I am in a souk and the Internet office is very funny !

  15. I eat fish but not a lover of fish. I eat because I have to and not because I want to. We need fish in our diet. It’s very interesting to know about your tradition.
    Thanks for stopping by.

  16. Thanks for the comment on my blog. Your meal sounds tasty? My question is: Does lutefisk taste like chicken, lol?

  17. that is an incredibly looooong process. sounds interesting though. i like salt cod which requires a lot of soaking to be able to eat it.

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  19. @Gattina: At a beach on Christmas Holiday sounds hilariously good! Happy New Year to you too!

    @Teena: but Teena, you can’t ask for pizza at Christmas! Hope my next post taste better then:-)

    @Lifeathers2000: Well read my next post then!

    @Friday’sChild: Good to welcome new readers who like to know about our culture – welcome back!

    @JohnH: Like chicken?? LoL, well, doesn’t it all:-)

    @Claire: Agree; Turkey is for Thanksgiving.

    @Lime: Takes times to make good food you know!

    @Mehdi Karimzadeh: Happy New Year to you too. Glad you found something of interests – as I do at yours.

  20. can any one tell me where i can order lutefisk??? I live in Germany and love it…

    I can’t – I’m sorry, but I do hope others might be help you out with this!

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