Lutefisk is a traditional Nordic dish prepared with reconstituted stockfish soaked in a solution of lye. It was eaten as a festive dish on fast days during the former Roman Catholic era.
After the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, lutefisk remained as a seasonal dish, mainly consumed in Christmas time.
Read more about lutefisk here.
See traditional Finnish recipes for preparing lutefisk from scratch here.
Ask your fishmonger for a piece of lutefisk that is ready-to-bake. In Finland in Christmas time, lutefisk may be found sold fresh, vacuum-packed or frozen.
When calculating the right amount of fish per diner, note that the fish will shrink in size during baking.
For lutefisk lovers, a suitable amount would be about 500 grams of uncooked fish per diner for an adventurous "newbie", about half the amount at the maximum!
At its simplest, lutefisk in Finland is served with béchamel sauce, melted butter, ground allspice and boiled potatoes only, but below there are also listed some of the trimmings that are traditionally served
with it in Norway and Sweden. The Swedes also like to serve coarse-textured Skåne mustard with the fish.
250 to 500 g lutefisk per diner
about 150 g smoked bacon, thinly sliced
bacon drippings or melted butter
coarsely ground allspice
hot, freshly boiled potatoes
25 g butter
pureed green peas:
2 - 2¼ tbsp coarse wheat flour
400 ml whole milk
pat of butter
about 150 - 200 g fresh or frozen peas
water or vegetable or meat stock
pinch of sugar
pat of butter
(dash of cream)
If the fish is frozen, let it become partially thawed in refrigerator. Unwrap the fish. Pour out any accumulated juices of frozen or vacuum-packed lutefisk.
In picture on right: piece of fresh, ready-to-bake lutefisk with its translucent, pearly flesh.
Soaking or salting (not compulsory):
Some people like to soak the fish in ice-cold water for from a few hours to overnight before cooking, as this will result in a firmer flesh. The soaking water should be changed repeatedly.
Also sprinkling the fish with salt and letting it stand in a cool place for a couple of hours will make the fish firmer. After this, the fish is briefly rinsed under cold running water.
For a more even baking result, it is advisable to cut larger pieces of lutefisk into several smaller pieces of equal size. Place the fish (skin-side down, if it has its skin attached) in a buttered oven dish. Preferably use a glass, enamel, stainless steel or glazed ceramic dish. Aluminium dishes or utensils must not be used, because in course of time the lye in the fish will corrode them.
Sprinkle or rub the fish with salt, using about ½ to 1 teaspoon of salt per 500 grams of fish. Cover the pan tightly with a lid or a piece of foil (not letting it touch the fish), so that the steam building inside will not escape.
Bake the fish at 200 °C until the flesh is starting to turn white and flaky, a sign telling that the fish is done. The baking time may vary from 15 to 40 minutes, according to the size and thickness of the fish. As a rule of thumb, the baking should take about 15 minutes per 1 kilogram of fish. Depending on its size, check the fish after the first 20 or 30 minutes, then continue to bake for 5 to 10 minutes longer, or until the fish is done.
While the fish is cooking, prepare the trimmings. Note that some trimmings take longer or are more complex to prepare, so should be started already before the fish is placed to cook.
Peel about 2 to 3 medium-small potatoes per diner. Place the potatoes in a saucepan and cover them with water. Add some salt, cover the pan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and let the potatoes simmer until thoroughly done.
Strain out the water, remove the lid and let the excess steam escape by placing the pan on the still warm stove for a couple of minutes or so. Serve immediately.
Cut the bacon slices in thin strips and slowly fry them in a pan until crisp. Do not let the rendered fat burn. Strain the drippings in a bowl, a sauceboat, etc, and keep warm.
In a thick-bottomed saucepan, bring the milk slowly to the boil, stirring every now and then. Meanwhile, in another saucepan, slowly melt the butter without letting it brown. Whisk the flour into the butter a little at a time, until a smooth paste is formed.
Increase the heat and let the mixture bubble for about 2 minutes, stirring continually. Do not let the mixture brown. Take the pan off the heat. As soon as the bubbling ceases, pour in the boiling hot milk, whisking vigorously.
Place the pan back on the stove and bring the mixture to the boil, stirring continually. Let the mixture simmer until it has thickened sufficiently, stirring every now and then. Add some milk, if the sauce seems too thick. To remove any possible lumps, strain the sauce through a fine sieve.
Season the sauce with a dash of white pepper and salt and keep warm. Just before serving, stir in some soft butter to give the sauce flavour and shine. This amount of sauce will serve two persons.
Pureed green peas:
Cook the peas in a little water or stock until thoroughly tender. Fresh peas take a little longer to cook than frozen ones. Strain the peas, reserving the cooking liquid. Push the peas through a fine sieve or use a hand blender to puree them. Return the puree to the saucepan, add some salt, sugar and butter (and cream).
Reheat the puree. If it seems too thin, let it cook for a couple of minutes longer, if too thick, add some cooking liquid or cream. This amount of pea puree will serve about two persons.
Note: the pea puree is traditionally prepared with soaked and cooked dry green peas, which will take hours of soaking and a considerably longer cooking time, so using frozen peas is much quicker, but the flavour is of course completely different. Also whole, boiled fresh or frozen peas, or warmed canned peas are often served instead of pureed ones.
Assembling the dish:
Gently lift a piece of newly-cooked lutefisk and place it on a (preferably warmed) plate. Drizzle the fish partly with a bit of bacon drippings (or melted butter) and pour over some béchamel sauce. Grind allspice on top and sprinkle with bacon bits. Place potatoes and a dollop of pea puree beside the fish. Serve immediately.
Beverages for lutefisk
Although wine is sometimes regarded unsuitable to be served with lutefisk, a sweet white wine like a relatively young Sauternes or a medium-bodied, light and acidic red wine like young Bordeaux or fruity Beaujolais may accompany it. In fact, the combination of Sauternes and lutefisk is highly praised by many lutefisk connoisseurs.
Mature, "caramel-flavoured" Sauternes is not recommended, as well as mature, full-bodied and mellow red wines, as lutefisk gives them a metallic taste.
Instead of wine, you may serve more "authentic" beverages, like cold beer, traditional Finnish sweet homemade beer or ice-cold milk or buttermilk.
Also some schnaps of akvavit or vodka is usually served with lutefisk, in the true Nordic fashion.