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Lutefisk is a specialty from the Nordic countries - Norway, Sweden and Finland served at Christmas time. The largest consumption today is in the USA in communities with Nordic heritage. 

Preparation of lutefisk is described for the first time in 1555 by Olaus Magnus, a Swedish priest. 300 years later, in 1845, the Norwegian author Hanna Winsnes recommends in her cookbook to add a little ash and lime to the cooking water for dried fish, to soften it and thus shorten the cooking time. 

A more interesting anecdote is that there was a storage of dried fish that burned down after being struck by lightning sometime in the Middle Ages, and the damaged fish were left in the ashes from the fire and the chemistry of the ashes and water created a strong alkaline cleaning agent - like "lye", which softened the fish and caused the special consistency.


Lyefish today is made from stockfish or cutfish that is treated with lye in a special process. Cod, ling, tusk or pollock are most often used. The fish is first soaked in cold water for five to six days, with the water changed daily. The water-saturated fish is then soaked in cold water with added lye for two days. During this treatment, the fish swells to more than its original size, while the protein content is reduced by around 50% - which gives the fish its characteristic consistency. When this treatment is finished, the fish is full of lye, has a pH value of 11–12 and is poisonous. In order for it to become edible, it must again be soaked in cold water for 10 days.

Served with the right accompaniments, it is a delicacy

In the Nordic region, the season starts early in November and lasts until after Christmas. Lutefisk is usually served with a variety of side dishes, including bacon, pea stew, potatoes, sauce, white sauce, syrup, goat's cheese, brown cheese or aged cheese. Those who eat lutefisk in soft lefse only use butter, salt and pepper as accessories. In the United States, it is common to eat the fish with melted butter or white sauce, with lefse. Recommended drinks are aquavit and beer, which are traditional drinks with the food. Although the consistency and treatment of the fish makes it easy to complain about eating lutefisk, the dish is very popular and should definitely be tried.

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