...because you thought Sweden was Switzerland!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Food journal number 29: Lutfisk

New year, new experiences! For our New Year reunion, Mats and Margareta cooked some lutfisk for us. For their part, it's their first time to cook the traditional Christmastimely fish dish. For my part, it's the first time to test the notorious Scandinavian delicacy, which literally is air-dried fish reconstituted in lye solution.

... And yes, I mean lye which you make soap out of. In fact, lutfisk kept in the solution for too long effectively turn the fish fats into soap.

It therefore seemed that I would either love it or hate it, and if it weren't for modern food quality standards, I would probably not dare eat it at all. Being a balut-eater though (that's underdeveloped duck boiled alive in its shell for you!), I guess there are few foods that I'm squeamish about, or I at least haven't discovered what those would be yet.

Lutfisk (or lutefisk in the Norwegian spelling, and also in the English which I use from here onwards), resting in cold water in a plastic bowl an hour before cooking.

Regarding the plastic bowl in the above picture: lutefisk seems to be as reactive as it's main ingredient strange. All utensils and platters used to prepare lutefisk must be washed immediately afterwards, for lutefisk remains are said to be impossible to clean otherwise. Only stainless steel utensils should be used too, because lutefisk permanently destroys silverware.

At this point, you must be wondering how in the world Scandinavians had come up with such a strange and seemingly horrifying dish. Think that you're to put this reactive fish into your stomach! Fact is (according to Wikipedia anyway), is that nobody actually knows of its origins. Adds to the dish's "mystery", doesn't it? ;-) Anyway, its discovery could have been purely accidental – as in the case of dried fish falling into a washing bowl and forced to be eaten by the poor owners of the fish – or a deliberate way of softening the hard, dried fish. It could have well been the Viking-age freeze-dried food: "Just add lye (for three weeks or so)"! Another story goes that St. Patrick of Ireland tried to poison the Viking raiders by ordering minions to sprinkle lye on the meal of the enemy. Instead of dying though, the Vikings instead heralded lutefisk (lit. "lye fish") as a delicacy that increases longevity and strength. Glad to know that the dish got the nod of a saint though, even though his motives weren't exactly the holiest! :-D

The whole process of turning dried white fish to lutefisk involves immersing the fish in water and lye (replaced every day) for days. The traditional fish of choice is ling (långa) – an endangered fish of the cod family which um, actually, was the one we had (Uh, hi Lea's colleagues at Greenpeace!) At the end of the immersion process, the dried fish would have bloated to more than it's original (fresh) size, its protein content reduced by more than half, and so too, I would say, the color. The fish is as translucent as nata de coco. And who would have thought that dried fish could turn out so soft in the end? It must be the lye.

Though the reconstituted fish impressively looks like fresh fish (I still can't get over the fact that it used to be bone-dry!), I would describe the consistency as jelly-like, like eating the ligaments from a stew cooked in a pressure-cooker. The texture resembled something between mashed potatoes and pork fat, but since it's not really as solid as the two, it just melts almost instantly in your mouth as you chew on it. It's like fish gelatin, if there was one.

(Note the table runner, mom and dad – it's you're Christmas gift to M&M!)

The flavor was rather subtle – and thanks to that, easy on the palate. On it's own though, it wouldn't taste like much and is therefore served with a white cream-based sauce and several side-dishes, the most traditional of which are bacon, peas and potatoes. I must say, the crispy bacon is a good contrast with the gelatinous texture of the fish. Without it, it would probably have felt like we were eating boiled fat slabs – which is pretty funny because the bacon is the fat here. Also, a generous dash of pepper also makes the fish so much tastier than it would have been plain. It makes me wonder how the lutefisk tradition was before pre-packed bacon and spices... and back then it was actually everyday food!

The conclusion? Well-cooked and with a good sauce and side dishes, this traditional dish can be delicious. What I mean is, it's so mild-tasting that it actually has potential to taste great with something else (Ed. on the next day we also tried it as an ingredient to salad, and the salad actually turned out really tasty). Lutefisk also very filling, for something that resembles jelly! Most blog entries that I have read so far all describe their lutefisk experience to be so horrible and dull, but I don't think they do justice to this fish at all. It really wasn't bad, maybe the ones who cooked it for them were. Having said that, I suppose that like balut, I would only eat lutefisk once or twice a year at most. Despite it's conventional appearance, the texture makes it quite an exotic dish, at least for me. Perhaps many Swedes think so too, for after all, it's only mainly available on Christmastime.

There was one among us who could think of eating it everyday without the side dishes though...


I know this sounds stupid, but I managed to take the video sideways and so far as we know, there's no easy way of turning it upright. Until I figure out a way, you'll just have to bend your heads for this one, but I swear that it's worth it!


Anonymous pj said...

Oh that looks really interesting! Haha. The adventurous eater in my is really intrigued.
And that video of kricke (spl?) is sooooo cute. Hehe.

7:53 AM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

Then you should check out this blog called "Deep End Dining" and check out their review on balut and octopus tentacles. Heheh. I can't wait to try the other strange Swedish fish dish, surströmming, which they say is really nasty and smells like rotten fish. >:-D But that's what they say about bagoong too, right?

9:40 AM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

Oh yes, and about Kricke... it must have been the fish smell. As I said, we had ling, but cod reportedly smells even fishier. But anyway, the smell was enough to get the cat all excited and he was trying to climb on to our pants. So we kicked him out :-)

10:11 AM

Blogger Christianne said...

I can flip that video for you, will email it to you :)

4:26 PM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

Wow, talaga? :-) Do you remember my Yahoo email? joyguerrero(at)yahoo.com

Thank you thank you thank you!

What program do you use to flip it? I have hoards of videos which I film in the wrong orientation (usually I delete them). Di na natuto. Heheh.

5:59 PM

Blogger Christianne said...

Hmm, for some reason I can't download the video on this page... I can donwload videos that are embedded from youtube and photobucket pero siguro hindi supported ng Download Helper ang Blogger videos. Can you email me the file? Or check this out, ito lang ang ginagamit ko to flip videos, if you have Windows XP you probably have it:


3:31 PM


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