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Some Lutefisk History to Enjoy While Your Minnesota Lutefisk Recipes are Cooking.
Lutefisk was a Christmas dish during the medieval times when Catholics were required to fast before larger festivals. All meat was strictly forbidden during fasting. Fish and porridge were the substitute foods, and since (more or less) only dry fish was accessible at Christmastime, lutefisk fish came to be the Christmas fish.
It is said that lutefisk was invented because some "fumbly person" happened to drop lye on a piece of dried, soaked fish and thus discovered that the dry fish re-took its original shape and became white. Whether it was by mistake or not, it must have been a successful discovery in those days. Since salt was very expensive and hard to get, it was considerably cheaper to dry fish than to salt it. In some parts of the country, the dry fish could substitute bread. Dry fish was also brought on travels and for those who worked far away from home. We are told about sturdy men from Dalarna who brought dry fish on the haymaking. It was soaked in some swamp to later be banged to a relatively soft and palatable consistency.
Olaus Magnus, who lived during the first half of the 1500s, and wrote a history of the Nordic People, tells us, "Above all, the Nordic people eat dry fish such as pike, perch-pike, bream, burbot, and the fish which in the Gothic language is called "sik" (whitefish). All these different kinds of fish are stapled like wood.
When you want to prepare these fish to eat, you put it for two days in strong lye and one day in clean, pure water to make it as soft as you want it. After boiling it with an addition of salty butter, you can put it upon the very tables of princes as a well-liked and delicious dish."
There are several opinions about proper accompaniments to the lutefisk. Butter has already been mentioned by Olaus Magnus. Samuel Ödmann (born in 1750) writes about Christmas Eve in his grandfather's home, when "the meal was started by strongly PEPPERED lutfisk." Mustard and mustard sauce was used with fish by the Romans. In this country, mustard seems to be just as medieval as the lutefisk itself.
Many prefer their lutefisk with white sauce, salt, and pepper. Cajsa Warg writes in her cookbook, For Young Women, published in 1755, about a buttery sauce, thickened with flour, which was to be served with the lutefisk. And Dr. Hagdahl has a recipe for green pea purée, which you can serve with lutefisk or meat.
The pea purée, which is today substituted with canned or frozen small peas, doesn't seem to be a very common accompaniment with lutefisk. There's a recipe from the region of Dalarna, where you make the lutefisk with salted pork. On the West Coast some people pour hot pork fat over their fish, while others mix chopped eggs in the sauce. In Norway you can have stewed yellow peas and pork fat with your fish.
Thanks to the freezing facilities today, it would be possible to eat lutefisk all the year round, or at least prolong the lutefisk season. The Norwegians do. But in Sweden it seems like most people are reluctant to do this. It belongs to Christmas.
Thousands of tons of lutefisk are eaten each year. Half of this amount is dried, lyed ling, which has a lovely consistency and is fairly mild in taste. The other half is sathe, which has a coarser consistency and a more typical lutefisk taste.
Minnesota lutefisk recipes have a long and storied tradition!