Lutefisk History and Recipe


It is said that about half the Norwegians who immigrated to America came in order to escape the hated lutefisk and the other half came to spread the gospel of lutefisk’s wonderfulness.
– Norwegian-American saying


Lutefisk History and Recipe


Lutefisk History:

Lutefisk (pronounced LEWD-uh-fisk) is dried cod that has been soaked in a lye solution for several days to rehydrate it.  It is rinsed with cold water to remove the lye, then boiled or baked, and then served with butter, salt, and pepper.

The finished lutefisk usually is the consistency of Jello.  It is also called lyefish, and in the United States, Norwegian-Americans traditionally serve it for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  In many Norwegian homes, lutefisk takes the place of the Christmas turkey.  In Minnesota and Wisconsin, you can find lutefisk in local food stores and even at some restaurants. It is a food that you either love or hate, and, as some people say, “Once a year is probably enough!”

During the fall in Wisconsin, people watch their local newspapers for announcements of lutefisk suppers, which are usually held in Norwegian churches.  Usually every Norwegian church will host at least one lutefisk supper between October and the end of the year.  The dinners have become so popular that lovers of this special cod dish drive great distances, and these are not just people of Scandinavian descent.

The history of lutefisk dates back to the Vikings.  On one occasion, according to one legend, plundering Vikings burned down a fishing village, including the wooden racks with drying cod.  The returning villagers poured water on the racks to put out the fire.  Ashes covered the dried fish, and then it rained.  The fish buried in the ashes in the ashes thus became soaked in a lye slush.  Later the villagers were surprised to see that the dried fish had changed to what looked like fresh fish.  They rinsed the fish in water to remove the lye and make it edible, and then boiled it.  The story is that one particularly brave villager tasted the fish and declared it “not bad.”

Norwegian-Americans believe that lutefisk was brought by their ancestors on the ships when they came to America, and that it was all they had to eat.  Today the fish is celebrated in ethnic and religious celebrations and is linked with hardship and courage.



Lutefisk Recipe:

Family friend Neil Sticha of Bloomington, Minnesota, persuaded one of his favorite Norwegian cooks, Shirley LaBissonniers, to share her recipe for lutefisk:

First of all, invite brave people over for dinner who do not have misconceptions about this wonderful fish!

Next, go to a store that carries the freshest fish and seafood.  Ideally, you would get the lutefisk that they pull out of a barrel (most stores hate those barrels a lot and don’t do that anymore).  Second best, it comes skinless and “trimmed” and packaged in a plastic.  Purchase the lutefisk a day before you want to serve it.

Take it out of the plastic bag, put it in a large bowl, and cover with ice water.  Change this water two to three times (to remove the lye) and keep in the refrigerator until ready to use (if your family will let you).  This firms up the fish.


Stovetop Cooking:  Lutefisk does not need any additional water for the cooking.  Place the well rinsed cod in a frying pan over low heat, (do not use an aluminum pan as the lye in the fish will discolor the pan).  Add salt, cover with a lid, and steam cook approximately 20 to 25 minutes.

Oven Baking:  Place the well rinsed cod in an ovenproof dish, cover with aluminum foil.  Put in a preheated oven at 375 degrees F. for 25 to 30 minutes.  The fish is done when it flakes easily with a fork.

Do not overcook the Lutefisk or it will look like white Jello!  The fish will be not brown.


In Minnesota, we allow at least a pound of lutefisk per person, served with hot melted butter.

The two side dishes are riced potatoes and very small cooked frozen peas – no exceptions.

And, of course, you must have Lefse.  This is a ritual which we try to repeat as often as possible and as long as we can get the fresh lutefisk.


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Comments and Reviews

12 Responses to “Lutefisk History and Recipe”

  1. Stephanie Eastwood

    Thank you for the lutefisk lore and helpful cooking instructions. Hoping to revive Grandma’s Christmas custom with my own first lutefisk.

  2. Linda Olson

    I loved this! My dad was a swede and I remember him eating this on new years

  3. My parents both came from Norway; my dad in 1929 and my mother in 1930. So of course I grew up having it and I love, love it. I don't even mind the smell becauIn Ingeborg Kari (Hollo) Dickhoff Great Falls, Mt

    My dad came from Norway in 1929 and my mother in 1930. They knew each other in Norway and after Mother came they were married in Edingbirg. ND. I grew up having lutefisk and loved it, loved it. I still do and I am having a friend who cam over to America and I am serving Lutefisk and fish balls. I even like the smell of lutefisk because I know what is coming. I can almost smell it now.
    My mother was from Nesbyen, Hallingdal and my dad from Bruma not sure of spelling. I have been to Norway three times. I still have 3 aunts living there and much family.

  4. Sandy

    My grandfather would prepare this from scratch(stinking up the neighborhood) as my grandmother would say and all of us kids’ would dive into it, smothering it with pepper and butter and spreading it and peas on our lefse. Kind of a Scandinavian Burrito.

  5. Keith

    My father (who was Swiss) would drive many miles to eat lutefisk. I sometimes wondered how he managed to get invitations for these meals, I have never tasted it but am willing to try.

  6. Curtis Boe

    I am originally from Minnesota and presently live in North Carolina. We had lutefisk for Christmas for many years growing up. How can one acquire lutefisk in North Carolina?

    • Ronald Anderson

      I was born on December 19, 1956. Except that first year, I have eaten Lute Fisk on Christmas Eve every year since. ( and hundreds more times through out the years) . When done properly, it ranks right up there with lobster, shrimp or walleye. Very important NOT to over cook!.. I bake on an elevated rack 375 for 30 minuets, not one second more. White gravy, melted butter, boiled potatoes, side of Korv (potato sausage) is essential for the best Lute Fisk experience. It’s that time of year,,, Uffda it’s GOOD! TRIVIA Olsen Fish Market, Minneapolis Mn. is the worlds largest lutefisk processor..

  7. Ron

    I was born in Parkers Prairie, MN on Feb 5th, 1937. I grew up having lutefisk and Lefsa every Christmas until I left Wadena in 1954. I loved both and I miss both. My Sister in St. Cloud, MN makes Lefsa every year and sends a package. I live in Maryland now, and look forward to having Lefsa. My Sister buys it now and it is just as good.

    • Letty

      I grew up in La Crosse WI. Last name Johnson, of course. My mother would fix lutefisk about once a year for my grandfather. I would have to leave the house I found it so disgusting. I could not even wash the dishes! To this day I can’t eat fish of any kind I found this so traumatizing! Lefse on the other hand was the best thing ever!

  8. Vernon Hanson

    I love lutefisk. My Grandfather was from Goteburg, Sweden. We always had lutefisk and mashed potatoes for Christmas. We were made to eat what was on our plates so I aquired the taste for lutefisk, cod gravy, pickled pigs feet and salted side pork. I consider all of these dishes great food!! My wife doesn’t like lutefisk or any of the other dishes I’ve mentioned, so I have to go and pay 12 to 15 dollars a plate for lutefisk these days.

  9. Karla

    I was an exchange student to Sweden in 79/80. We had lutfisk for Christmas dinner and from what I’m reading above, she overcooked it. It was like Jello. I am a fish lover but that didn’t taste like fish. I would like to know the process and necessary ingredients for taking salted cod and using the lye to rehydrate it. I use “food grade lye” in my goat milk soap making process so I’d like to give it a go.

  10. Andy M.

    I’ve tried lutefisk twice, once going down and once coming up! Seriously, I love it, even though German/Bohemian ancestry and usually able to go to a couple lutefisk suppers every Holiday Season.


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