If you’ve ever heard of a dish called lutefisk — which we Finns refer to as “lipeäkala” — you’ve probably wondered what it tastes like. And if you’ve looked up lutefisk recipes online, you might be astonished to find that they actually use lye, a super toxic substance!
No need to worry because now you can taste what authentic lutefisk is like without having to soak the fish in lye and water for days on end. Thanks to this ingenious recipe I’ve developed, you can enjoy the true flavor of lutefisk in just half an hour!
Probably, the Nordic lutefisk purists hate me for this recipe, but I couldn’t care less. Quite the opposite: I am proud to have created this innovative recipe, something the hidebound fanatics could never have managed; they just can’t think outside the box.
So, let’s step into the fascinating world of lutefisk!
As you might be now as confused about this whole topic as a fish in a water glass, let’s tackle some questions first.
What the heck is lutefisk?
Lutefisk is a traditional Nordic dish made from dried whitefish (commonly cod, but also ling or pollock) that has been soaked in cold water for several days with lye, then rinsed and cooked. This process gives the fish its characteristic gelatinous texture.
Lutefisk is served during the Christmas season. We Finns eat lutefisk (lipeäkala), often with white sauce and boiled potatoes. My family has always added some allspice — and I gave up potatoes after going low-carb.
Well, I had a 20-year break from eating lutefisk because of being vegetarian. But nowadays, I happily eat lutefisk with salt, melted butter, and allspice.
How does lipeäkala (lutefisk/lutfisk) taste?
The taste of the fish itself is quite neutral, and it doesn’t really taste like much on its own. That’s why the accompaniments play the most crucial role in this dish. Lutefisk actually has a slightly alkaline taste due to the lye treatment, which makes the fish and its flavor truly unique and unprecedented.
In my opinion, enjoying lutefisk is an acquired taste, because, to be honest, who would like a gelatinous, very neutral, and actually alkaline-flavored fish on their first taste?
That’s why this recipe offers you the possibility to taste lutefisk without wasting days to create something you might not like. True, the consistency of this lutefisk is not gelatinous, but you still can taste the genuine taste of lutefisk — and if you like it, you can always make the real deal with lye!
Do you really use lye to make lutefisk?
Yes, lye is indeed used in the preparation of lutefisk. The dried fish is soaked in a lye solution for several days, which rehydrates it and gives it its characteristic gelatinous texture. After the lye treatment, the fish is thoroughly rinsed with cold water to remove the lye before it’s cooked and served.
Isn’t it dangerous to use lye in preparing lutefisk?
Yes, using lye in preparing lutefisk can be dangerous if not handled correctly, as lye is a caustic substance. However, the process involves carefully diluting the lye and then thoroughly rinsing the fish after the lye treatment to ensure it’s safe to eat. When properly prepared, lutefisk is not toxic, although the use of lye in its preparation does create a highly alkaline environment.
So, if you want to play it safe and NOT use lye — and still get the authentic lutefisk taste — you’ll make this quick lutefisk recipe!
How do you make lutefisk without lye?
The answer is simple: you use my creative recipe!
To make lutefisk without lye according to my recipe, you thaw frozen white fish fillets, then simmer them in a mixture of baking soda and boiling water. After simmering, rinse the fish thoroughly and simmer again in fresh boiling water until cooked through. This process aims to mimic the alkaline taste and soft consistency of traditional lutefisk without using lye.
What is the best fish to make lutefisk?
Step-by-Step Instructions on How to Make this Quick Lutefisk without Lye
So, this simple recipe needs only three ingredients: white-fleshed fish, baking soda, and water. You’ll get those ingredients from a regular grocery store, so nothing fancy here.
Let’s take a more detailed look at how to make this quick version of lutefisk:
First, take 2 lbs (900 g) of firm, white-fleshed fish. Like said, I have pollock here. Frozen fish works perfectly. Let it thaw in the fridge overnight. Place the fish in a medium or medium-large saucepan.
Add 1/4 cup (60 ml) of baking soda.
Cover the fish with boiling water.
Let simmer over medium-low heat for 20 minutes.
The mixture might get really foamy, so keep your eye on it and reduce the heat if it’s about to spill over.
Pour out the water carefully.
Rinse the fish with clean water and drain it.
Transfer the fish again to the saucepan.
Cover again with boiling water.
Let simmer for 10 minutes, or until soft and done.
Carefully, pour out all the water.
Transfer the fish on a serving plate.
Serve with melted butter and allspice.
How I Came up with This Quick and Clever Way to Make Lutefisk without Lye
First off, a disclaimer: this recipe is by no means a substitute for traditional lutefisk. While the flavor is reminiscent, the texture isn’t quite as gelatinous. Nonetheless, if you’ve never experienced lutefisk, this quick and safe recipe offers a great introduction to its distinctive taste — and perhaps you’ll be inspired to prepare the classic lye-treated lutefisk for next Christmas!
Well, I was about to publish something completely different this week, actually, a main course I made for Christmas. No, it’s not ham that is the centerpiece of the Finnish Christmas table, but a beef dish, as we had ham last weekend when visiting my mom. But fear not; I’ll be sharing that fantastic recipe with you shortly.
Suddenly, lutefisk came to mind, another popular dish in Finland during the Christmas season. Indeed, around this time, grocery store shelves are brimming with lutefisk (lipeäkala):
So there I was, contemplating lutefisk — a dish I’m definitely looking forward to savoring this Christmas since it’s entirely carnivorous. It got me wondering if there’s a way to prepare it at home without using lye and, ideally, quicker than the traditional week-long process that lutefisk typically requires.
Not wanting to handle toxic lye, I began considering other, safer alkaline substances. It took me just a few seconds to think of baking soda; it’s alkaline, a staple in every kitchen, and above all, it’s extremely safe to use.
Now, the question then became, how can I use baking soda with fish to replicate the taste of lutefisk? Additionally, I wanted to expedite the process so it wouldn’t take a week of soaking the fish.
It quickly dawned on me that heat accelerates chemical reactions, so it was clear that I needed to introduce heat into the equation. To ensure the fish would absorb the baking soda evenly, I decided to cook the fish in water infused with baking soda. It seemed like a flawless plan! However, I wasn’t certain it would work in practice, so I set out to experiment.
Time was of the essence once more, so I found myself taking progress photos during my initial experiment — on the darkest day of the year! All I could do was hope for a successful outcome!
Once the preparation was complete, it was time to taste my unconventional concoction. To my great surprise, the fish actually bore the distinctive flavor of lutefisk! It possessed the characteristic, mildly alkaline taste akin to the real thing. The texture was tender and effortlessly flaked apart with a fork.
Accompanied by melted butter and allspice, the experience was as close to authentic as possible! I was incredibly pleased and delighted that I managed to craft this imitation that was not only ridiculously easy to make but also used common ingredients!
Here’s the recipe for you to enjoy:
- 2 lbs = 900 g frozen fish fillets from firm white-fleshed neutral-tasting fish (cod, haddock, flounder, pollock)
- 1/4 cup = 60 ml baking soda
- boiling water
- Let the frozen fish thaw in the fridge overnight.
- Place the thawed fish into a medium saucepan.
- Add the baking soda. Add boiling water until the fish is completely covered with water.
- Let the fish simmer over a medium-low heat for 20 minutes. Don't cover with a lid, as the mixture might spill over.
- Pour out the water carefully. Rinse the fish with care and pour out the rinsing water.
- Pour again boiling water into the saucepan over the fish until the fish is covered with water.
- Let again simmer over a medium-low heat until well done, about 10 minutes.
- Pour out the water carefully without breaking the delicate fish.
- Transfer the fish to a serving plate.
- Serve immediately with salt, melted butter, and allspice.
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Please note that I haven’t provided nutritional information here, as the values vary depending on the type of fish used. Since this recipe consists solely of fish (baking soda and water don’t contribute nutrients), the nutritional profile of your lutefisk will essentially reflect that of the fish itself.
Tips for Serving the Quick Lutefisk
Usually, in this section, I’ll provide tips for variations, but as I want to keep this recipe traditional (even in truth, it’s far away from being traditional as the method is revolutionary), I’ll give you suggestions on how to serve this unique dish. In any case, the flavor indeed is authentic, so you’ll get to taste the traditional Nordic flavors.
How to serve your quick lutefisk the low-carb way:
- My Way: As stated above, I’ll pour an ample amount of melted grass-fed butter over the fish and sprinkle unrefined sea salt and ground allspice on top.
- Finnish Low-Carb Way: Make a white sauce without using starch or flour as a thickener. Simply cook the sauce until it’s reduced and thick. Serve the fish with the white sauce, cooked cauliflower florets, and pepper of your choice.
- Norwegian Low-Carb Way: Make white sauce without starch or flour as a thickener. Serve the lutefisk with the sauce, crumbled fried bacon, and melted butter. Alternatively, you can make mustard sauce instead of white sauce. If your carb quota allows, you can serve some green peas or mashed green peas on the side.
- Swedish Low-Carb Way: Swedes call lutefisk “lutfisk,” and they often eat it with white sauce, so again, you can make white sauce without adding extra nonsense (=starch or flour). Crisp pieces of bacon or pork side are also common accompaniments.
- Lutefisk Polonaise: Serve your quick lutefisk with melted butter and chopped hard-boiled eggs sprinkled on top. This is an amazing carnivore variation!
Be sure to check my other ketoized traditional Finnish recipes!
Merry Christmas to all who are celebrating! Here in Finland, we celebrate Christmas today, on Christmas Eve, unlike many other countries that celebrate Christmas on Christmas Day.
I didn’t make traditional Christmas dinner with casseroles and ham (as we enjoyed them a week ago), but something completely different: mock potato salad with cauliflower served with sausages. That food Finns usually eat on New Year’s Eve, but I wanted to make it for Christmas as my son is going to travel on Boxing Day and is not here to spend New Year’s Eve.
I also made keto crackers and served them with various cheeses. And, for myself, I made the before-mentioned meaty main course from beef. It turned out to be super delicious, so I’ll make sure to post it here on my blog soon.
To be honest, I’m not a big fan of traditional Finnish Christmas dishes with countless casseroles, salads (like rosolli and mushroom salad), and plum kissel. In fact, they are not that traditional after all: we have enjoyed them just a couple of decades, which is a drop in the ocean compared to the few million years of our carnivore history. Therefore, if you want to make genuinely traditional Christmas food, you make animal-based food, not starvation food (=plant foods)!
After all, Christmas is a time of abundance, so it makes absolutely no sense to eat starvation foods (i.e., plants) on Christmas!