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Lutefisk lovers lye-n up, dig in
POULSBO — Allison Parks is a quarter Norwegian and before Saturday had never attempted the dish Norwegian-Americans serve when reconnecting with their roots.
“I’m feeling very Norwegian today,” she said, volunteering in the kitchen at First Lutheran Church of Poulsbo’s 97th lutefisk dinner fundraiser.
Parks admitted she’s been predisposed to not like the delicacy, a controversial dish that draws unsavory comparisons to other gelatinous, fishy substances.
Her grandparents host a lutefisk dinner, and her parents, breaking with tradition, hold an “unlutefisk” dinner.
Parks, 22, an intern and mentee at the church, she sees the lye-soaked, sometimes pungent dish as a way for Americans to reconnect with their roots, a way to remember where their ancestors came from.
“I think one of the things is that we grow up expecting not to like it,” she said, stirring a giant pot of white sauce, recommended by lutefisk veterans to embolden the vague taste of lutefisk.
For Phil Rasmussen of Port Ludlow, 100 percent Norwegian and son of Lutheran minister, he grew up despising the dish, hating it, and said he comes to the fundraiser mainly for the meatballs.
“I told my dad, ‘Keep the presents, I’m not going to eat that stuff,” Rasmussen said.
Despite the griping about the lye-soaked fish dish Scandinavian scion and “Prairie Home Companion” host Garrison Keillor described as not usually “edible by normal people,” a few queried at the dinner gave positive reviews, and not because they were trying to be polite.
It can be an acquired taste, said Gordon Stenman of Poulsbo, who was juggling dishes of potatoes and monitoring volunteers.
“We grew up with it,” he said, adding that he takes his lutefisk with white sauce.
For those who want another chance to acquire the taste, the Sons of Norway Poulsbo lodge is holding a lutefisk dinner Nov. 21.
For some, the love of the delicacy came immediately, no acquiring necessary.
Bill Cusick, a member of the church who is of Irish descent, said he takes his plain.
“I love it, from day one,” he said.
And according to the numbers, it was well-received. The event usually goes through more than 1,000 pounds of lutefisk, pre-soaked in lye, 500 pounds of peeled potatoes, 200 pounds of potatoes for the lefse — a flat, tortilla-like bread — and 200 pounds of hamburger for meatballs, Stenman said.
Altogether, about 1,000 people gathered at the church.
As for beginner lutefisk eaters, Stenman suggested being selective in how the dish is described.
“For starters, don’t tell them it’s soaked in lye,” he said.
The lutefisk enjoyed, or avoided, on Saturday was processed in Port Townsend — far from the noses in Poulsbo — and dipped in hot water before serving.
Kurt Servold and Glenn Anderson tended to the boiling cheese-cloth bundles of fish. Servold doesn’t touch the stuff, unless he’s cooking it, but Anderson said he enjoys it once a year.
But the real reason they cook isn’t for the food, but for the camaraderie.
“That’s the fun part,” Anderson said.
After receiving the right encouragement, Parks took her first bowl of lutefisk, covered it in white sauce as instructed, and dug in.
“It’s not too bad,” she said, then tried to place the flavor.
“It tastes like something,”