QUAERITUR: lutefisk

You would not believe what I get in my e-mail.

I thought you or your readers might have an idea where to acquire some lutefisk. My in-laws are of Swedish stock and we have some interest in serving some lutefisk during the holidays. Can you be of any assistance? We are located in Grand Rapids, Michigan (not Minnesota!) but don’t mind shopping online or via a catalog if necessary.


Lutefisk?   Also known as Lyefish, because it is made by rotting fish in lye?

I don’t mind it by e-mail, so long as it isn’t in my snail mail.

I can tell you where to get colatura, which is highly to be recommended.

And that is lutefisk has nothing whatsoever to do with the fisk I apply to texts, though lies are often exposed.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. rwprof says:

    Nyorsk “fisk” is a direct cognate to English “fish.” Just sign me your friendly Orthodox linguist (Germanicist).

  2. Mariana says:

    Lutfisk is an aquired taste, are you sure your in-laws actually like it? Be warned, it stinks! Luckily, the taste is quite bland, the point of the whole thing is the peppery bechamel that goes with it, and potatoes.

  3. cheekypinkgirl says:

    Ikea? They have a section in their stores that sells stuff like that from Sweden.

  4. spesalvi23 says:

    I have a very, very good friend in Oslo. A fellow convert!
    They have their own rotten fish -> ‘Rakfisk’ festival ever year, with song and dance dedicated to it. I actually was dragged across a dance floor by a number of Norwegian men, waltzing to various rakfisk songs.. too funny!!
    To a Bavarian (no ocean anywhere in sight) a festival dedicated to rotten fish sounds very, very strange!!!

    I assume they use differnt types of sea-trout for that purpose.

  5. MrTipsNZ says:

    Do not try this. I repeat, do not try lutefisk.

    We once tried this in Finland at Xmas time 8 years ago. Having now only recently recovered from the ordeal, I swear that lutefisk is a diabolical, biological weapon, hatched somewhere in an axis-of-evil laboratory by a mad genetic scientist (complete with leather bound egg-shaped chair and white cat to pet) in order to subdue an unsuspecting population into voting for Al Gore.

    As soon as the first morsel enters your mouth, all your saliva, taste buds and collective sanity are sucked into the flesh and it sets like concrete. There is a reason Swedish people speak with a certain kind of lilt….

    I would only recommend it to Extreme Sports junkies or Obama supporters..

  6. penitent sinner says:

    Lutefisk don’t taste much at all.
    Just bye some dried fish and let it soak in lime and then rinse it thouroughly with water and cook it in the oven. Jummy.

  7. penitent sinner says:

    Sorry, I said lime it should be lye

  8. lofstrr says:

    Mariana is right. Be absolutely sure that they like lutefisk before serving it. I am first generation American. My Dad and stepmom both were born and raised in Sweden and came here as young adults. Neither of them prefer lutefisk though my dad can eat it. It is seriously nasty stuff.

    If you are near and Ikea you could pick up some kind of pickled herring. They also have really tasty köttbullar (meatballs). They just need to be warmed up. If not, you could also make Köttbullar by hand. It takes a lot time though. Köttbullar och potatis, is pretty traditional. Meatballs with boiled potatoes and brown gravy for both with some red beets on the side. mmmmmmmm.

    Another possible dish is pytt i panna, they server it at most roadside diners in Wweden. It is basically a pan fried hash.
    Here is a recipe http://www.grouprecipes.com/sr/15709/swedish-hash-pytt-i-panna/recipe/
    You can use what ever meat you have handy. Roast, sausage, ham what ever. Also, serve it with a single, over medium, fried egg on top and red beets on the side. Swedes like beets.

    You should also pick up some hard bread to serve with meals. Butter and sliced cheese on hardbread. You can usually find that anywhere, Wasa, is very common. But if you go to a big store or an Ikea try to find Siljans Knäckebröd http://www.aumarche.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=store.prodDetail&prodID=568
    or similar whole rye knäckebröd in the full round flat pieces. You then break them into what looks like pizza slices. Also, if you do pick it up from an Ikea, grab some Kalles caviar http://swedensbest.com/kallescaviar2.html to spread on your hardbread. It is a salty pink caviar. Very tasty.

    shoot, I am hungry now.

  9. penitent sinner says:

    And it should be doesn’t instead of don’t as well.
    I’m Swedish, but my name is not Inga.

  10. lofstrr says:

    Köttbullar is pronounced kinda like shut-bool-are.
    Pytt i panna is pronounce like pit-e-pun-uh.
    Knäckebröd is pronounced k-nicky-brood… kinda, close anyway.

  11. Tominellay says:

    The TV show Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, on the Travel Channel, had an episode about lutefisk in Minnesota; Google that show…I’m sure you’ll find a way to get lutefisk shipped to you…

  12. Tim Ferguson says:

    and here I thought lutefisk was when Fr. Z fisked an article in the NCR with the music of John Dowland in the background…

  13. Joe Magarac says:

    And tubs of lutefisk appear at Ralph’s meat counter, the dried cod soaked in lye solution for weeks to make a pale gelatinous substance beloved by all Norwegians, who nonethless eat it only once a year. The soaking is done in a shed behing the store, and Ralph has a separate set of lutefisk clothes he keeps in the trunk of his Ford Galaxie. No dogs chase his car, and if he forgets to cahnge his lutefisk socks his wife barks at him. Ralph feels that the dish is a great delicacy and he doesn’t find lutefisk jokes funny. “Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it,” he says. Nevertheless he doesn’t offer it to carolers who come by his house because he knows it could kill them. You have to be ready for lutefisk.

    Garrison Keillor, Lake Wobegon Days (Faber, 1986) 344-5.

  14. JoAnna says:

    Eh, just serve lefse instead. Fun to make and divine with butter and white sugar.

  15. penitent sinner says:

    lol I’m sure even Inga would be mesmerized.


  16. thereseb says:

    They need to contact the Olsen Fish Co in Minneapolis
    There is a lutefisk hotline (1-800-882-0212) also shown as (800) 882-0212 – don’t know which applies from Michigan.

    email is lutefisk@olsenfish.com

    Look. Don’t ask how I know this – just don’t ask – ok. It’s a long story.

  17. isabella says:

    Joanne is right. Lefse = yummy.

    Lutefisk is about as appealing as syrup of ipecac. It just doesn’t work as fast.

  18. markomalley says:


    I’m glad that you mentioned the Garrison Keillor piece, so I wouldn’t have to.

  19. markomalley says:

    ‘Twas the day before Christmas with things all a bustle.

    As mama got set for the Christmas Eve tussle.

    Aunts, uncles and cousins would soon be arriving

    With stomachs all ready for Christmas Eve dining.

    While I sat alone with a feeling of dread,

    As visions of lutefisk danced in my head.

    The thought of the smell made my eyeball start burning,

    The thought of the taste set my stomach to churning,

    For I’m one of those who good Norwegians rebuff,

    A Scandahoovian boy who can’t stand the stuff!

    Each year, however, I played at the game

    To spare mama & papa the undying shame.

    I must bear up bravely, I can’t take the risk

    Of relatives knowing I hate lutefisk.

    I know they would spurn me, my presents withhold

    If the unthinkable, unspeakable truth they were told.

    Then out in the yard, I heard such a clatter;

    I jumped up to see what was the matter.

    There in the snow, all in a jumble,

    Three of my uncles had taken a tumble.

    My aunts, as usual gave what for,

    And soon they were up and through the door.

    Then with talk and more cheer, an hour was passed

    As mama finished the Christmas repast.

    From out in the kitchen, an odor came stealing

    That fairly set my senses to reeling.

    The smell of lutefisk crept down the hall

    And wilted a plant, in a pot on the wall.

    The others reacted as though they were smitten,

    While the aroma laid low my poor helpless kitten.

    Uncles Oscar and Lars said, “Oh, that smells yummy,”

    And Kermit’s eyes glittered while he patted his tummy.

    The scent skipped on the ceiling and bounced of the floor

    And the bird in the cuckoo fell to the floor.

    Mama announced dinner by ringing a bell;

    They pushed to the table with a yump and a yell.

    I lifted my eyes to heaven and sighed,

    And a rose on the wallpaper withered and died.

    With leaded legs I found my chair

    And sat in silence with an unseeing stare.

    Most of the food was already in place;

    There remained only to fill the lutefisk’s space.

    Then mama came proudly with a bowl on a trivet,

    You would have thought the crown jewels were in it.

    She placed it carefully down and took her seat,

    And papa said grace before we would eat.

    It seemed to me, with my whirling head,

    The shortest prayer he’d ever said.

    Then mama lifted the cover on the steaming dish

    And I was face to face with that quivering fish.

    “Me first,” I heard Uncle Kermit call,

    While I watched the paint peel of the wall.

    The plates were passed for papa to fill;

    I waited, in agony, between fever and chill.

    He would dip in the spoon and hold it up high;

    It oozed onto the plate, I thought I would die.

    Them came my plate and to my fevered brain

    There seemed enough lutefisk to derail a train.

    It looked like a mountain of congealing glue;

    Oddly transparent, yet discolored in hue.

    With butter and cream sauce I tried to conceal it;

    I salted and peppered, but the smell would reveal it.

    I drummed up my courage, I tried to be bold.

    Mama reminds me to eat before it gets cold.

    I decided to face it, “uff da,” I sighed;

    “Uff da, indeed,” my stomach replied.

    Then I summoned that resolve for which our breed’s known.

    My hand took the fork as with a mind of its own.

    And with reckless abandon that lutfisk I ate,

    Within twenty seconds I’d cleaned up my plate.

    Uncle Kermit flashed me an ear to ear grin,

    As butter and cream sauce dripped from his chin.

    Then, to my great shock, he whispered in my ear,

    “I’m sure glad this is over for another year!”

    It was then I learned a great and wonderful truth,

    That Swedes and Norwegians, from old men to youth,

    Must each pay their dues to have the great joy

    Of being known as a good Scandahoovian boy.

    And so to you all, as you face the great test,

    Happy Christmas to you, and to you all my best!

  20. Although I’m not Scandinavian, the several times I’ve had lutefisk (with butter, salt and pepper) I’ve rather enjoyed it. Has to be fresh, though; if it sits on the table for a while, not so good.

    Anyway, my Norwegian Lutheran friends call it “The piece of cod that passeth all understanding.”

  21. MargaretMN says:

    Gefilte fish is better than Lutefisk and it comes in a jar in the Kosher foods section. If you do make Lutefisk, make it at somebody else’s house. The stench created in making it is legendary.

  22. taximom says:

    Oh boy, the phones must be ringing off the hook at the lukefisk hotline! What’s next, the baccala’ call center?

  23. taximom says:

    Oops, lutefisk, not lukefisk!

  24. My younger brother (our family’s picky eater) was very disappointed at how normal and bland lutefisk was, except for texture. No big deal to him, and he won’t even eat okra.

    Scandinavian salty black licorice, OTOH, he thinks is a work of the devil.

    (I like it, and actually have a slight addiction to it. But the first time I tried it, I thought I’d die. The ‘salt’ isn’t NaCl, you see.)

  25. Mariana says:

    2and here I thought lutefisk was when Fr. Z fisked an article in the NCR with the music of John Dowland in the background2

    Well, lutfisk WIll bring on Lacrimae to most : ) !

  26. Mariana says:

    Sorry about the above, try nr II:

    “and here I thought lutefisk was when Fr. Z fisked an article in the NCR with the music of John Dowland in the background”

    Well, lutfisk WILL bring on Lacrimae to most : ) !

  27. Marcin says:

    and here I thought lutefisk was when Fr. Z fisked an article in the NCR with the music of John Dowland in the background…

    Dowland does not deserve _any_ thought of lutefisk.

  28. Eric says:

    Skip the rotten fish and serve them some julmust. Everyone will be happier.

  29. Andy F. says:

    Penitent Sinner,
    I’m pretty sure that advising folks who don’t know what they are doing to soak the fish in lye is not a good idea. There is a point in the process when the lutefisk are extremely toxic. If you don’t know what you are doing, I suppose you could die eating lutefisk. At least that’s what Andrew Zimmern indicated on his Bizarre Foods excursion to Minnesota.

  30. cwillia1 says:

    Forget lutefisk. Think CEVICHE!

  31. Father J says:

    My word, all the comments from folks who aren’t down with lutefisk!

    Nah, what you want to try is hákarl. If you’re into rotten fish, hákarl is truly the extraordinary form.

    Saint Thorlac, pray for us!

  32. JoAnna says:

    Better yet, serve rommegrot. Who can beat cream pudding?

  33. markomalley says:

    Amazing the controversy that lutefisk can cause, isn’t it?

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