Sunday, December 28, 2008

Culinary Curiosities

“Well, we tried the lutefisk trick and the raccoons went away, but now we have got a family of Norwegians living under our house.”

Nothing, aside from perhaps language, ties us to our culture more than food. In an instant, food can bring back the comforts of childhood. It’s soothing and can stimulate a flood a memories like nothing else.

In my family, around the holiday season, we were inundated with goodies, many of them Norwegian treats that we rarely ate at other times of the year: lefse, rosettes, krumkake, fattigman, almond rice pudding… foods, at which the mere mention, make me salivate. These treats strengthened our bond with the other Scandinavian brethren in the area with whom we made much merriment as Christmas neared and during the days of festing that followed. But of all that bonds Norwegians, nothing bonds us more, than lutefisk. It is one of those dishes that every single Norsk has a strong reaction too. Whether we love it or hate it, we do so with passion. In my family, it was not on the menu, although I have kin who rave about it, and perhaps the emphasis should be on the word, “rave.” Personally, I side with a Norwegian friend who put it like this, “Lutefisk is not food we actually eat, it’s a test to see if outsiders really, really want to marry into our family. How much do you love my child? Eat this lye soaked fish to prove it.”

For those of you who have never heard of lutefisk, you did not just misunderstand. It is indeed lye soaked fish or more precisely, dried cod soaked in lye and then boiled. That’s right, sodium hydroxide, you know the stuff you use to clean drains, which will burn you chemically if you come in contact with it, and will explode when in contact with aluminum. It is also a major ingredient in soap. So what does this delicacy actually taste like? Well, when all is said and done, the fish has a translucent jelly like appearance and doesn’t taste much of anything. It certainly isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever eaten, although I do question its safety. The taste mainly comes from what you eat with lutefisk. Usually it’s drenched (and I mean flooded) in melted butter, and then often additionally topped with bacon. Boiled potatoes and stewed peas usually also make an honoured appearance beside this delicacy.

For those of you still morbidly curious or intrigued, check out the following videos.





24 comments:

we're doomed said...

I'm game. I think I could like the "LUTEFISH".

The Fool said...

G'morning Nomad. I have not had the honor of tasting lutefisk...although I might question the notion of honor in this instance. ;) I had a friend back in Fairbanks that was both Scottish & Norwegian...and he raved about both lutefisk and haggis (I can only imagine what a gastronomical treat that combo must be).

The films are an absolute delight. I found the a cappela pieces charming...but the ladies win hands-down in my book. Their hats and humor would fit in well in my neighborhood. And although I did not understand a word of the second video...I found the animation delightful...and even checked out some of the artist's other work. Now, I have to Google lefse, rosettes, and fattigman to find out what they're about. Thanks for sharing, Nomad...you made me smile.

Pamela said...

My late cousin (who was closer to my mothers age) married a man who was very much of Swedish descent -- they lived for years in a suburb of Seattle. Before he died of cancer (and he knew it was imminent) he had a pre-funeral party. Several hundred of the Swedish community turned out. They brought an assortment of the most interesting foods I'd ever encountered. That white jellied fish, strange boiled eggs, etc. All scandinavian delights. My cousin was so happy. He died about a month later and I often think about his delight in seeing all his friends, eating his old favorites snacks and saying goodbye.

Carla said...

We're Doomed, Like I said, it's not bad, not as bad as I expected, although I have never gone out of my way to find it. But even Norwegians who absolutely rave about the stuff don't usually eat it more than once or twice a year. Of course there is probably someone crazy person of Norwegian decent who is the exception to the rule who eats it all the time. Apparently they now eat more of the stuff in the mid-west than they do in Norway.

Carla said...

Fool, Yes, of course, there are many things that I would consider more of an honour. Never had haggis personally, and not one of those things that particularly interests me. I am sure that most Scottish dishes and some Norwegian dishes originally started out as a dare.

I loved the clip with the ladies and their fish named Joe. And I'm not sure if you noticed, but they zoomed in on a piece of lutefisk sitting on the counter. In terms of the second video, my Norwegian too is quite limited. But you can see the fisherman catching the cod and then hanging it out to dry all winter. And then the mother bringing in the dish as it's explained that lutefisk is a delicacy. But what really kills me, is the puppets' eyes. They all have the look like, "you're kidding! You expect me to eat this!" I feel like there is some unspoken secret going back and forth between them as I know there is in many Norwegian households where they ceremoniously eat the stuff once a year.

Carla said...

For those who have never heard of any of the dishes I mention, rosettes are a cookie where the batter is put on an iron and then deep fried in oil. When cool, they are often sprinkled with icing sugar before they are eaten. Fattigmann is another deep fried cookie, also known as poor man's cookies due to the simplicity of the ingredients. Lefse is a potato flat bread kind of like a tortilla. It is eaten with both savory dishes (to mop up gravy and sauce) or often with butter, cinnamon and sugar as a treat. Krumkake is a delicious, crisp, delicate cookie made on a special iron and then rolled. They are also known as "crumb cake." They are only slightly sweet and usually have a hint of cardamon flavour.

Carla said...

Pamela, There is something very comforting in eating those things we had in our childhood. I am glad your cousin's husband had such an experience with food and friends before he crossed to the other side.

Cheryl said...

Lutefisk is one Norwegian dish that I've never had any desire to try. I do love Lefse though!
I'm hoping that you'll come visit and teach me how to make Krumkake sometime - I still haven't tried out my iron.
Happy feasting!

Carla said...

Cheryl, I made my Dad some lefse this year. The rolling was a little tricky as I don't actually have a lefse rolling pin, so I just used my regular one. It turned out not bad though. Once you make krumkake, you'll wonder why you didn't make it earlier. It's really very easy. Just make sure you don't use a recipe that has butter or oil in it or they become a little greasy and will spatter while on the griddle. It also them becomes harder to control the browning when you cook them up. My recipe works like a charm and is easy enough to modify for different flavours.

Becks said...

I've never had lutefisk, but my mom's side comes from a Danish background and my grandpa loves pickled herring. It's interesting to say the least.

We love abelskeivers, which are a Danish pancake-like thing. I've also been looking for a good pfferneuse cookie recipe, which is, of course more German, but still very tasty.

dawn said...

I must say, I don't think I would want to try it. It must be somewhat safe after boiling it, but still doesn't appeal to me like chocolate would.

Carla said...

Becks, I like abelskeivers as well. I might have a good pfferneuse recipe, although it's been awhile since I've made them. I'll have to have a look.

Dawn, Agreed. I'd take the chocolate over the lutefisk any day, especially if it's dark chocolate. In terms of making the fish "safe" after all the lye, it's soaked in vats of water that are changed daily for approximately 7-10 days. This is to bring the pH level back to what is considered safe for consumption. I am sure they know what they are doing, but... well, need I say more.

The Dotterel said...

I don't think they had Lutefish at my brother-in-law's wedding (he married a Norwegian) but they sure had some strange wedding traditions!

thailandchani said...

I had no idea about lutefish or how it was made. It sounds utterly frightening! LOL



~*

Carla said...

Dotterel, Welcome. I would love to know about some of those traditions.

Chani, Yes, even given the best spin on this one, it sounds mighty fishy.

VE said...

You are about to be removed from my blog roll!!! It’s nothing personal…I’m restarting for 2009 this Thursday. Were you at the top of the list in 2008? If not, here’s your chance to be. A single comment gets you on my blog roll. Keep commenting and you’ll stay at the top. Hope to see you in 2009!

Maggie said...

How hungry must that first person have been to have tried the fish even after it slipped into Ma's soap kettle? Really am curious how some foods come to be that one now tops my curiousity chart. At Christmas my grandmom always breaks the arch off the top of a candy cane and jams it in a lemon. After a bit of sucking the lemony goodness comes through the pepermint straws. My grandmom also likes Manhattans so I can almost imagine how that one came to be:)

BurdockBoy said...

There was a very large Scandinavian Heritage back in Northern Wisco-Lutherans and Lutefisk. I did try lutefisk once and hated it. Maybe I'll try it again at the right setting, but I doubt it.

Interesting Post. Thanks.

Fida said...

You had me salivating in the beginning – though I didn’t understand a word, but you triggered memories… but then, that Lutefisk – I don’t think I could warm up to that! A good subject for entertaining, though :-)

A very VERY Happy New Year to you and your family!

Isle Dance said...

OMG, so TRUE!

Carla said...

VE, I'll be over to say happy new year shortly.

Maggie, Desperate times bring about desperate measures. I have been told it was a way to get those last nutrients out of the fish, but have not had that confirmed. But I do wonder about some dishes myself.

Carla said...

Burdock Boy, My but aren't you brave? You can join me on a Viking raid anytime.

Fida, Funny you should say so. I was at a party last night and a girl I know introduced me to her husband, a German American from Wisconsin. She told him I was Norwegian (large Scandinavian population in the area he is from) and right away the conversation turned to lutefisk (I was not the one who brought it up). I was surprised at how intrigued everyone was.

Carla said...

Ilse Dance, You make me smile.

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