Swedish Christmas Food – Lutfisk Posted by Marcus Cederström on Dec 24, 2015 in Culture, food, Holidays
Swedes celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve—December 24. But that doesn’t mean they don’t take full advantage of the holiday. Come the end of November, you’ll start seeing restaurants, hotels, catering services all offering a julbord. Literally, Christmas table, a julbord is the Christmastime smorgasbord (another Swedish word, by the way) filled with food and drink.
There are plenty of variations of this tradition, and it is constantly changing like any tradition, but you’ll often find inlagd sill (pickled herring), julskinka (Christmas ham), korv (sausages), köttbullar (meatballs), potatis (potatoes), rökt och gravad lax (smoked and cured salmon), ärter (peas), rödbetor (red beets), rödkål (red cabbage) and a whole lot more. Plus there’s the julmust (Christmas pop, julöl (Christmas beer), and snaps (aquavit).
But there’s one thing I left off that list. Mostly because it’s one thing I leave off my own personal Christmas menu: lutfisk.
Lutfisk, often known by the Norwegian word “lutefisk” in the United States, is fish soaked in lye. Which makes sense considering lut = lye and fisk = fish. Ta da! Swedish is a pretty logical language sometimes.
The dish has been around for at least 500 years with Olaus Magnus writing about it back in the 1500s. The recipe hasn’t changed much. Dry some whitefish (like ling, for example). Soak it in cold water for five-ish days. Soak it in lye for two-ish days. Soak it in cold water again for about 5-ish days. Don’t forget to change the water out once a day. Cook it. Eat it. Or don’t.
Traditions vary, but often lutfisk is served with potatoes and (where my dad’s family lives) senapsås (mustard sauce). In Norway they’ll serve it with bacon. In Finland, they’ll add some peas to the meal. But no matter how you eat it, or what you eat it with, lutfisk can be found on tables all over Sweden and its neighboring countries during the holiday season. And all over the United States as well.
Dr. Carrie Roy has put together a 13-minute documentary about lutfisk traditions in the Upper Midwest for anyone wanting to get a closer look at the glory that is Scandinavian food traditions.
Personally, I prefer not eating jellied fish that has been lying in poison for two days, but that’s just me. Do you include lutfisk in your holiday meals? Let us know in the comments below.