Back in late February I was stranded in a blizzard on the north side of the Twin Cities (see “White Out” - http://lookingtowardportugal.blogspot.com/2012/02/white-out.html). What I am about to share with you had to age a bit before I was ready to put it in writing.
Having grown to maturity in the Midwest, I certainly know what lutefisk is, or at least what it is purported to be. Simply put, it is some sort of whitefish (frequently cod, but haddock and pollock are also used) which has been air dried and then soaked in cold water for up to two weeks after which lye (yes, that’s right, lye) is introduced in order to convert fish flesh into a bloated, gelatinous substance that looks like it might have been fish in a previous incarnation. Lutefisk does, however, smell like fish . . . fish that has been lying all day in the driveway on the hottest day of the year and then brought inside and stored in a tightly sealed container along with Limburger cheese and one’s old gym socks. I like to claim that I have eaten lutefisk twice . . . once going down and once coming back up. You get the picture.
Lutefisk being fish, after all, has a strange symbiotic relationship with water. Fish live in the water. Take the fish out of the water, salt it down real good and allow it to dry to the point of dessication. Bring it inside and soak it in water for days until it is bloated and the salt has been removed. Store it is water. When you are ready to cook it, sprinkle it with copious amounts of salt to remove the water. After removing the salt, boil it in water. And what do you add to the water? The salt you just removed from it before boiling. Poaching is another popular form of cooking lutefisk. Yep . . . water and a little salt. Some folks forego the water and bake it, but frankly, I don’t see the point. It only makes it smell worse. Remember the day on the driveway? People joke and trade insults about lutefisk (and I am apparently one of them), but there are those who do eat it and enjoy it. So there I was in Minnesota, and lutefisk was on the menu. When in Rome . . . .
I was finishing my third cup of coffee when my meal arrived at the table. First off, I was disappointed to see that my peas were not freshly frozen as advertised, but actually quite soft and warm as peas should be. The rutabagas were boiled, I am guessing along with the peas, then mashed and slathered in butter, as was the very generous portion of lutefisk drenched in a creamy white sauce. Add to this some warm lefse, a thin potato flatbread just right for sponging off the plate when I was done. I was rather pleasantly surprised to discover that the lutefisk was not as pungent smelling as I remembered it from an earlier encounter, and the waitress informed me that the diner used haddock instead of cod because “it isn’t so icky.” Obviously she was not a fan of the stuff. The diner was happy to serve it, but at the same time they didn’t want to put the other, less adventurous customers off their feed.
All kidding aside, I had been on the road much of the day dealing with adverse weather and road conditions, after which I wandered through white-out conditions to find a place where I could get a decent meal. I certainly was not going to order lutefisk and rutabagas on a lark. I had eaten lutefisk when I was young and, frankly, I didn’t think it was that bad once I got it past my nose. And as far as its consistency goes, I eat raw oysters and lutefisk doesn’t hold a candle to those delightful bivalves in the slimy and gelatinous category. So, I added another pat of butter, and a little salt and pepper to the mix, and I enjoyed a very nice meal. There was even room for dessert, a warm slice of Norwegian gold cake and a final cup of coffee.
All too soon it was time for me to make my way back to the motel. The snow was beginning to let up and I was ready to call it a day. When I started out that morning I had no expectation that I would be eating lutefisk before it was over. One more adventure for the road. And my compliments to the chef!
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