Lutefisk: yay or nay?
If you like it, how do you prepare it?
If you don't like it, did you ever eat it anyway?
Our family always serves it along side Swedish meatballs, so there is an alternate. We would always have to take just a bite growing up, but I think that was mostly just to see our expressions. Folks didn't mind us not eating it, left more for them.
I think it would be boiled or simmered, and sometimes baked. But always served with plain, boiled potatoes, never mashed. And with copious amounts of melted butter (not margarine), and sprinkled with dry mustard.
I admit to missing it, but not enough to make it.
I have fond memories of going to a small town's school for big lutefisk dinners, getting a number, waiting on the bleachers for our numbers to be called, then going through the serving line. People came from miles around.
We have many Swedish friends (who live both in the states and in Sweden, there are tons of Swedes into hotrod culture and kustom kulture,) and I lived in Minneapolis for 6 years so I've had many occasions to try it, I've had it made by many different people. I don't care for it. Most of our Swedish friends absolutely hate it. I have one American friend that loves it.
Both my grandmothers were Swedish. The Iowa grandmother's family was intent on becoming Americans. My grandmother and her brothers bailed out of Iowa for Sourthern California in the early 1900s and never, ever mentioned lutfiske again.
My dad's mom was fob (fresh off the boat) when she met my grandfather at an embassy party in Washington D.C. during Wold War 1. She was one of the cooks at the Swedish embassy and, as was typical in those days, had been trained "in the French manner." So the subject of lutfiske (that's lutefisk to you Norskis) never came up. The stuff only came to light long after they married. I gather it was around 1935, during the Depression. My grandparents were friends with guys in maritime unions on the west coast, and a lot of those guys were old Norskis and Finns who cherished lutfiske at Christmastime.
So, there was a strike at the docks in 1935 and she put on a julbord for their friends. She kept doing it into the 1950s, and the fare included lutefiske. She made what was, by all accounts, great lutfiske. Apparently, in soaking it prior to cooking, she included a salt water bath which helped give it a flaky texture like real fish instead of the mushy stuff some people used to serve.
The old guys said it wasso good it brought tears to their eyes. I saw them tear-up when I was at my first julbord in 1951. Brought tears to my eyes, too, though for different reasons. This was the old lye cured lutfisk. I thought the stench was appalling.
My grandmother never ate the stuff, herself, either. When we cleared dishes afterwards -- okay, I just tagged along and got underfoot -- she tried to explain lutfiske to my mother (who was flabbergasted by the stuff.) My grandmother said, and I quote: "I left Sweden to get away from that crap. Now, I make it out back in the garden shed but only because it makes the old guys so happy."
The only comparable culinary experience I recall from my childhood was when my mother's dad handed me an olive fresh off a tree. More recently, I once got within smelling distance of some hakarl on a trip through Iceland but was not tempted to get close enough to find out if it tasted as bad as it smelled. Same thing with the can of surstromming that a friend somehow got past Homeland Security.
Now, I'm as old as those longshoremen and sailors, and I live in a town in Montana with a bunch of neighbors of Finnish and Sandinavian ancestry, some of whom still want to eat lutefisk at Christmas. This modern stuff is different, though. It is freeze-dried and doesn't smell or taste of lye. (If you get to Billings, the 4th Avenue Meat Market is their recommended source and they say there are a couple of markets in Bozeman that also do a good job, too.)
Anyway, you give it a soak in enough cold water to cover, with a couple teaspoons of salt for about an hour. Wash it well and then dry it it thoroughly. Put it in a big glass baking dish, dotting the top with pats of butter. Bake in a 350F oven for half an hour. Flip the fish over and put a little more butter on it. Bake until it flakes easily. Make a bechamel sauce with a dash of ground allspice. Serve with potatoes and melted butter to go with the bechamel sauce. I've eaten it on occasion and it basically seems to be a slightly fishy carrier for the white sauce and butter. "White as a winter landscape with spotty sunshine on it" is how one old Finn described it to me.
To me, though, it is not much of a recommendation when the best thing I can say about something is that it doesn't stink like it did in the old days. So, while, I'm still carrying on the family tradition of julbords, I tell people that I live in a lutefisk-free zone.