Skeptics of the Norwegian delicacy lutefisk, Tom Heavey wants you to try his 12-Step Program To Loving Lutefisk.
It goes something like this.
First: Attend the Sons of Norway Norden Lodge #2 lutefisk dinner every October. This year’s dinner will be 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday at Normanna Hall in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood.
Year one: Eat a bite of lutefisk, which, if you’ve never heard of it, is dried cod preserved in lye, then baked or boiled before serving with butter or a white sauce. It has a gelatinous texture with a distinctive flavor. If you’ve had it, you don’t forget it.
Year two: Eat two bites. Savor.
Year three: Eat three bites. That year was a big advancement in his self-guided program. “That’s the year I got over the gag reflex,” joked Heavey, a longtime member of the Tacoma lodge.
Year four: Four bites. That was Heavey’s pivotal year. “The fourth year I actually enjoyed my four bites and kept going,” he said.
Your results may vary at which step you stop counting the bites. Or not. Some never develop a taste for lutefisk, noted Heavey. His Norwegian family enjoyed lutefisk every Christmas and he recalls hiding in the basement with the other kids to escape the adult tradition they didn’t understand much. As an adult, he came to appreciate that lutefisk is one of those Nordic eating rituals steeped in tradition, providing a seasonal reminder for when preserved fish propelled courageous Norwegians through difficult winters (that’s the abridged edition, the lore travels much deeper).
Norden Lodge president Dave Lamberson, who is organizing this Sunday’s dinner at Normanna Hall, never made it through Heavey’s program.
“It’s just not for us,” he said with a laugh. “We’ll stick with the meatballs.” Diners at Sunday’s event have a choice of lutefisk or meatballs – or both. The meatballs are a traditional Norwegian concoction, a combination of ground beef, a bit of pork, onions and a splash of nutmeg, explained Erick Balstad, a longtime member and volunteer lodge cook with wife Quinn.
Balstad and a legion of lodge volunteers began prepping the meatballs earlier this week. The meatballs will be fried, then roasted and served with a healthy portion of brown gravy, alongside boiled potatoes, carrots and/or the lutefisk. Flatbread is served with the meal, along with a choice of beverage, with tapioca pudding for dessert.
There seems to be some level of agreement about why some don’t fully appreciate the taste of lutefisk – they blame the cooking technique, said Heavey. “There is such a thing, contrary to popular belief, as bad lutefisk,” Heavey said, a tinge of humor in his voice.
The bad stuff? It’s sloppily overcooked into something akin to fish gelatin. At Norden Lodge, they boil their lutefisk, which gives the lye-soaked fish some firmness. “It’s not soupy, it flakes as opposed to looking like it’s Jell-O,” said Heavey.
The cooking method is always the same and so are the cooks at Norden Lodge #2. The fish is always boiled, never baked. “The guys who cook it are members of, or are friends of, the Lindgren family,” said Heavey. He was referring to the extended family of friend Don Lindgren, who was a longtime member of the lodge.
He described the Lindgren method where the family cooks set up a cooking station next to the lodge – the lutefisk always is cooked outside, rain or shine. The fish is cut into pieces, wrapped in cheesecloth and dunked for several minutes in boiling water until it’s cooked enough to make the fish flake – but before it turns soupy.
Whether you show up for lutefisk or meatballs, you won’t leave hungry, said Lamberson. “We don’t put on a social where you’ll ever leave hungry. I tell you, the Norwegians love to cook and when they cook, they cook for a crowd.”
Did I mention the cookies? There will be a small bake sale downstairs where baker Shirley Haukeli will sell an assortment of her Norwegian sweets. Get there early, cookies sell out fast. There also will be demonstrations for lefse, the griddled bread made from potatoes, served with butter or sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.
If you want to know how to make – or eat – lutefisk, just ask. A lodge member will guide you through the program.
Sons of Norway Lutefisk Dinner
When: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013
Where: Normanna Hall, 1106 S. 15th St., 253-752-8686, norden2.com
Tickets: $20 adults, $10 children 7-12, free for kids 6 and younger
Dining: A full lutefisk and/or meatball dinner will be served buffet style with open seating. The dinner is all-you-can-eat (yes, even lutefisk).
Vendor fair: Collectibles will be sold downstairs in the lodge
Bake sale: Downstairs in the waiting area will be a small bake sale with Norwegian cookies and sweets. There also will be lefse making demonstrations.