In Search of the culinary Holy Grail


Cod (Stockfish) is dried in the cold arctic air till leathery and hard. When ready for use, the fish is reconstituted in culinary Lye – a solution of potassium hydroxide or potash. This process plumps the fish back to it’s normal size and probably removes all fat in the process. The fish is then filleted and washed. It is sold vacuum packed at this stage. To cook, the fish is cut into portions and placed skin side down in a baking dish. Some salt is sprinkled over, then the dish is covered with foil and baked for about 40 minutes at 200ºc. Because the fish has been soaked in water, the cooking will release this and in a way, gently steam the fish under cover.
Certainly not the mythical gelatinous gloop everybody talks about. It is not transparent. It is not soupy. It is not horrible. The lightly steamed fillet is served with crispy bacon, two mustards, grainy and powdered with some grated brunøst (Norwegian brown sweet cheese) and lefse (pancakes). All washed down with Norwegian beer and traditionally a Line aquavit  chaser. Eaten only around Christmas, Norwegians either crave or dismiss it. Folklore maintains it’s lucky, unlucky or otherwise… depending when and how you ate it.
It all began that fateful day some fifteen years ago when R, on one of his Oslo trips, tasted this “unsumptious” morsel.

London, 3rd Dec 2009 marked my quest. Over a massive okonomiyaki feast with my friendly foodie vikings, the L word was mentioned. Rubbing the salt in, they then invited me to join them at their 2009 Lutefisk feast in Oslo 3 days after. Having politely declined due to time constraints, I was then sent a photo of the dish by the temptress herself during the meal. That did it – the challenge was set: Oslo, 6th Jan 2010.

Cafè Engebret

Bankplassen 1

Tel +47 22 82 25 25

The chef was told to hold one portion of Lutefisk. Flights and hotel booked, the event was set in stone.

Simple… the journey began. January 5th 2010, an auspicious day to say the least. The sun shining, bags packed and a fairly big birthday for R. Certainly required a pair of healthy lungs to blow out those candles (I managed – just, to light them all up before the wax melted away).

I even managed to serve up the traditional birthday noodles for breakfast. We left the house. School trunk, tuckbox plus 7 other items were put in the boot. The baglady herself comfortably settled with iPod glued in ears, we set off to drop Nat to school. As the minutes ticked away, so did the sun. By Burford, the clouds honed in. Within minutes, white specks, then fluff and then clumps of cottonwool. Andoversford was panneforte like and it just got whiter and whiter. Cheltenham College was postcard material. As the heavy snow came down, we continued to unpack and then bravely walked to MontP for lunch. Brave??? Birthday lunch and to apease Nat, sore, that we had managed to reach Cheltenham. 30 of the 60 SA girls did not make it back.

We had to be pushed out of SA and it took 4 hours to get to Oxford. Trucks and cars were abandoned along the single tracked A40. From snowless Oxford to Gatwick, R stepped on the gas and we were parked, checked in and at the gate with 10 minutes to departure. Arrived and in bed by 1.30am. Box ticked.

Spent the next day shopping and preparing myself for the “Indiana Jones”. Saw the most amazing baby Alpaca gillett at 499…. (at that point husband said why didn’t you buy it..). 9 NOK. Clearly he was glad I didn’t succumb. The meal was fabulous and company sincerely made the event. Norwegian hospitality is second to none. Crawled into bed at 1am.

The return home to London was even more fraught. Our flight was cancelled and darling R paid the £600 for single tickets rebooked on SAS, landing at Heathrow. A taxi was waiting to take us back to Gatwick to collect the car.

Overall, a truly exciting adventure and a quest completed…. NEXT>>>>

My sincere thanks to Marit at Oslo International Airport’s Salmon House, who so patiently allowed me to photograph and “interrogate” her. I did spend a few NOKs in her shop buying dried cod slices and you know what, I may yet make some lutefisk!


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