Column - Lutefisk - with a twistBy now, you’ve probably heard enough about lutefisk. About its jelly-like texture, unique aroma and distinctive taste. But here’s a twist: Have you ever grilled it?
By: Al Edenloff, Alexandria Echo Press
By now, you’ve probably heard enough about lutefisk. About its jelly-like texture, unique aroma and distinctive taste.
But here’s a twist: Have you ever grilled it?
Let’s back up: Every Christmas Eve for as far back as I can remember, my mom made lutefisk. It was the center of our traditional Scandinavian feast, complete with Swedish meatballs, potatoes, lefsa, rutabagas, herring and heaping dishes of other kinds of food too – corn, sweet potatoes, a relish tray, cold meats and cheeses, a couple of salads, Jell-O, green bean casserole and more.
But this Christmas, sadly, would be entirely different. Both my mom and dad died this past fall in the space of three weeks. My brother and sister and I knew that we still wanted to get together on Christmas Eve and celebrate as a family. We all agreed to have the big meal at my family’s house. Everyone contributed by bringing too much food. My sister-in-law even whipped up some delicious Swedish meatballs.
But what about the lutefisk? Strangely enough, I’d actually thought about this before. I wondered if today’s generation would be able to keep the lutefisk legacy going. Would it eventually fade away? Would preparing it become a lost art?
Even though I’m by no means a lutefisk fanatic, I look forward to eating it once a year – more as a nostalgic tradition than anything else. When I first started eating it decades ago, I took only a tiny spoonful and drowned it in butter, salt and pepper. Gradually, my helpings increased. I cut back on the butter and I actually began to appreciate the taste. The last few Christmas Eves, I even had seconds.
So partly as a tribute to mom and partly because I knew I’d miss it if I didn’t try, I decided to make lutefisk for the first time.
I had to study up. I asked around. I Googled it on the Net. I bought a slab of the fish at a local grocery store. I had a plan. As it turns out, lutefisk isn’t that hard to make. You just pop it in the oven and let it bake for awhile.
But I had reservations. The smell. Our house is pretty small. The “aroma” of lutefisk, while pleasant to some, can be overwhelming.
And then, my wife hit on a solution. Why not grill it? Our stove was already going to be at full capacity anyway and cooking the lutefisk outside would free up the space – and clear the air.
This last-minute change of tactics sent me back to the Net, searching for “how to grill lutefisk.” Unfortunately, nothing of much use popped up. I was on my own.
I took one of our better pans, sprayed it thoroughly on the bottom and sides with Pam, plopped the lutefisk in it, covered the top with aluminum foil, fired up the grill to a temperature of about 350 degrees and let it cook.
I soon discovered a problem. Because the pan was covered with foil, I couldn’t check on the lutefisk to see how it was doing. But then I realized, what could really go wrong? And how could you tell?
So after a good 40 minutes or so, once the rest of the meal was ready, I brought in the lutefisk and opened the foil, letting that familiar aroma waft through the kitchen.
The finished fish looked a little weirder than normal. Some of it had mysteriously vanished during the grilling. It had cooked down to about half its original size. And despite my liberal application of non-stick spray, the bottom of the lutefisk was forever glued to the pan.
But all was not lost. The lutefisk that remained over the stuck-on part wasn’t half bad. Tasty in fact, with a little melted butter. My siblings each took small servings, as they had in the past, and proclaimed it as edible (though they could have been sparing my feelings). My wife even gulped down a small sampling (without really tasting it, however). We had fun with the whole thing, laughing, taking photos of our lutefisk reactions, wondering just what it was about the fish that made it so captivating.
All in all, my first try at making lutefisk was worth it. While not exactly like mom’s, it reminded me of lutefisks past, of special Christmas Eves and of shared family experiences. And that, more than anything, made the meal more complete.
But we did have to throw away the pan.