A Lutefisk Feast

Lutefisk Feast“My mom would have been proud of you,” Dad told me from the place where he rested, post-meal, in my kitchen.

As I sealed plastic wrap over bowls of medisterkaker, potatoes, red cabbage, and riskrem to refrigerate and Mom filled my dishwasher with the plates, utensils, and serving dishes from the night’s lutefisk feast, I reflected on what my dad was saying. Words so necessary–both comforting and bittersweet. My paternal grandmother never got to see this side of me–the grown-up Daytona who had settled so fully into life as an adult with a husband and son and who was now trying to keep our family’s Norwegian heritage alive through its food. She had lived to see me get happily married and work to establish a career as a journalist–a dream she had had for me many years before–but this, this part of life with a little family of my own and with a passion for Norwegian food, is where I think we would have connected best.

There was a day in the summer of 2009 that was going to change everything. Standing in the little white-and-beige bathroom in my first house–a mid-century brick home not far from where my grandparents once lived–I looked in the mirror and guided the black pearl studs into my ears. Almost ready to leave, all I had to do was make a stop to buy an almond- and raisin-studded kringle to bring to Grandma’s home for a lunchtime birthday celebration. I was going to propose something to Grandma that day, ask her if we could start talking–truly talking–and if she would tell me about her life and about Norway. I stepped out into the sun-drenched wood hallway to answer my phone and heard my mom’s still-shocked voice: “She’s gone.”

In an instant, everything changed. There would be no kringle, no birthday greetings, no feeling the softness of Grandma’s warm hug as she welcomed me into her home. Grief, mixed with regret, would come flooding in and filling the crevices that I had dreamed of filling with stories and more memories with my grandmother.

What I had wanted was time, time with someone dear to me yet generations apart, someone with whom I was ready to deepen a relationship. I’ve thought about that often throughout the years: Am I spending enough time–quality time–with my other, still-living grandma? With my loved ones? With my friends? Am I hearing the stories of farm life in North Dakota during the war, when my maternal grandparents were falling in love? Am I savoring the feeling of my Grandma Adeline’s shrinking shoulders when I hug her, realizing that each day with her is a gift?

What I’ve long wanted is time–more time with loved ones, more time to get things done. Reading through a  chapter in One Thousand Gifts before bed the other night, I discovered that maybe it’s not more time that I need and necessarily wantbut enough time–enough time to use it well and to the fullest. Though I hadn’t thought about that distinction in the way author Ann Voskamp put it, I’m realizing that that’s how I’ve been trying to live my life this year. Time and time again over the past few seasons I’ve thought to myself, this is when you’ll stop waiting, stop just dreaming and planning, and start doing. That might look as small as ordering a book about food photography for professional development or as meaningful as planning something like the lutefisk dinner my husband and I hosted for a few family members the other night.

The idea of a lutefisk dinner came up a couple of weeks ago and I remembered how much Grandma Adeline loves the preserved, gelatinous fish. While I grew up eating it with the family on occasion, I had never felt compelled to incorporate the dish into my own repertoire. But I realized that I’m blessed enough to have my 94-year-old grandma in my life right now, and while she’s here I want to treat her to a lutefisk dinner.

Soon the date was set. I had developed a menu and found a source for lutefisk (in Seattle, a city with a rich Scandinavian history, you don’t have to look far). As I sat next to Grandma at the candlelit dinner table on Wednesday night I watched as she chose an assortment of dishes, focusing mainly on filling her white plate with lutefisk and the potatoes. “That’s all I need,” she said. She’s a true, old-school Norwegian-American, and a representation of what I’ve read: that a traditional lutefisk feast needs nothing other than white food, simply lutefisk, potatoes, and perhaps lefse. Grandma, with her shrinking appetite, ate steadily and enthusiastically, agreeing to a second portion of lutefisk and leaving nothing on her plate. “I’m never coming to your house again for dinner–you make me feel miserable,” she joked as she commented on how her stomach ached with too much good food.

I’ve worried too often over the years about having enough time with Grandma–I suppose some of that fear comes from unexpectedly losing my other grandma before I was ready to say goodbye–but there’s a difference between an anxious, reactionary life and one that’s sensitive to the uncertainties of life and seeks to treat each day as a gift, living it to the fullest. The latter is what I’m striving for, and it’s with that in mind that I organized the lutefisk feast.

As the evening wound to a close I saw my family members so happy and content and I experienced what some of you mentioned in the Facebook discussion about lutefisk last week–that you love it for the warmth and love and memories that surround these meals. Prior to this week I assumed that it would be a tradition I’d carry on for Grandma as long as she’s alive and then probably cease it (I’ve never been one to seek out lutefisk), but now I understand why so many people hold fast to the tradition. Almost everyone at the table–including my husband and me–had seconds of the lutefisk, which was some of the best I’ve ever had with a pleasant, consistent texture and a delicate flavor accented by melted butter and cream sauce. Who knows, we may just keep up the tradition.

Lutefisk Feast

Our Lutefisk Feast
Though this post is about so much more than just lutefisk, I wouldn’t be able to sign off without including some details about our dinner. Though the food was entirely authentic in its inspiration, purists will note that our feast incorporated both Norwegian and Swedish traditions to honor my family’s Norwegian heritage and to remind my husband of the lutefisk (or lutfisk in Swedish) that my husband ate while visiting relatives in Sweden for Christmas when he was young. Looking back at it, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Lutefisk with Melted Butter and White Sauce: There’s a reason lutefisk is such a polarizing food amongst Scandinavians: With its preparation (it’s basically dried or cured cod that’s been soaked in lye and then rinsed for several days before baking) and the gelatinous texture, it sounds strange and can be an acquired taste, but those who love it are passionate about it. If prepared well, lutefisk can be enjoyable. My husband sprinkled ours with salt and pepper and baked it at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. We served it with melted butter–the Norwegian way–and Swedish-style with a white sauce. To make the white sauce, melt 3 tablespoons of salted butter in a saucepan over medium heat and then add 3 tablespoons flour, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon and adding a little more flour if necessary to form a roux. As soon as the mixture thickens and forms a light roux, slowly begin to 1 1/2 cups of whole milk: Start with 1/4 cup and stir until the roux seizes up and all the ingredients are well-mixed and smooth. Keep adding the milk in small quantities, stirring until incorporated and smooth each time (as you get close to the end of the milk you can start adding it in more quickly). Stir in 1 cup of whipping cream and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and continue to heat until the sauce thickens and reduces to the desired consistency. Keep in mind that it will continue to thicken as it cools, and you don’t want it so thick that you can’t pour it from a little pitcher or gravy boat. (As a guide, I used proportions from a little book called Scandinavian Christmas that Penfield Books sent me last year and created the sauce from that.) 

Mashed Potatoes with Butter and Parsley: My mom’s simply-boiled new Yukon Gold potatoes roughly mashed and strewn with melted butter and chopped parsley were a perfect accompaniment for the lutefisk.

Green Peas Sautéed with Onions: Peas were a distinct part of the lutefisk meals my husband remembers eating in Sweden. This quick version from Simply Recipes gives an ordinary bag of frozen peas a special touch by starting with sautéd onions and seasoning the dish with chicken broth, salt, and a pinch of sugar.

Medisterkaker and Lingonberry Preserves: One of the many things I love about Norwegians is their hospitality, and in a similar fashion I served plenty of medisterkaker–spiced, fatty pork meatballs–to round out the meal for those who weren’t interested in eating much lutefisk. Grandma Agny always used to serve these for holiday meals, and I grew up loving them. Lingonberry preserves pair well with medisterkaker, accenting the rich, savory morsels with their tart bite.

Two Red Cabbage Salads: Sweet-and-sour red cabbage, slowly simmered, is a common Scandinavian side dish during the holidays, and while I love the delicate and comforting quality of traditional rødkål, I also enjoy a combination of flavors, textures, and temperatures in meals. I decided to balance this particular feast by making a couple of cold, raw red cabbage salads: one creamy salad inspired by Ekte Norsk Jul Vol. 2 and another with a lingonberry-based dressing. I’ll be sharing both recipes on the blog soon.

Riskrem with Raspberry Sauce: I don’t remember there ever being a time when Grandma Agny didn’t serve riskrem–rice cream–with raspberry sauce for Christmas dessert. I always loved the combination of the delicate, barely-there flavor of sweetened rice and the bold, sweet-tart raspberry sauce. I added a twist to the classic this year by scenting the rice cream with lemon zest. (Recipe coming soon.)

Fyrstekake, an All-Time Favorite Norwegian Dessert

Fyrstekake Slice on Plate with Crumbs

I have the feeling that when I look back at this summer in the coming years, this time will be defined by food and family. Between cooking for the family, developing recipes for an article I can’t wait to tell you about, and testing recipes for a gifted cook who recently landed her first cookbook deal, I’ve been spending a lot of time walking up and down the aisles of the grocery store and whipping up drinks, dinners, and desserts in my kitchen. Never mind that the weather in Seattle has been full of sun, sun, sun!

Even though I have to be disciplined and make myself get outside and enjoy the sun at times, this has been a special summer, and one that confirms my belief that food is one of the most effective ways to bring people together.

In celebration of those special times we spend in the kitchen with those we love, connecting over a shared task and sitting down later to enjoy it together, I would like to share a recipe for fyrstekake, a classic Norwegian tart flavored richly with almond. Growing up eating it with my mom frequently, it remains one of my favorite Scandinavian desserts to this day.

Fyrstekake and Coffee

Fyrstekake Slice Horizontal

Fyrstekake is also known as Royal Cake or Prince’s Cake. Though it calls for only a handful of ingredients, the results are decadent and somewhat regal in their simplicity. As a classic dessert, it makes sense that many variations exist. Some are spiced with cardamom and other flavors, and some let the almond shine. This particular recipe resembles the one I grew up eating, and I love the soft, almost-toothsome texture of the filling with the crisp cookie-like crust.

Enjoy!

Signature for Blog

Fystekake and Coffee Spread

Norwegian Fyrstekake
Adapted from Norwegian Cakes and Cookies by Sverre Sætre, this recipe gets its rich flavor mostly from the ground almonds, but also from the slightest touch of almond extract that I added. If you enjoy marzipan candy, you’ll love this dessert.

For the crust:

2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup powdered sugar
14 tablespoons cold unsalted butter cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1 egg

For the filling:

1 3/4 cups slivered almonds
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 egg yolk
1 whole egg
1/4 cup whipping cream

For topping:

1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon water

To make the crust, combine flour, powdered sugar, and butter in a food processor until crumbly (alternately, cut ingredients together by hand). Add the egg and continue to process until the dough comes together. Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap and cover it well, and refrigerate for at least two hours.

Grease an eight- or nine-inch tart pan with removable base. Roll out the dough on a lightly-floured surface to about 1/8 inch thick. Place in the tart pan and work it in evenly in the crease and up the sides. Put the crust–and the remaining dough–back in the refrigerator for 30 minutes while you prepare the filling.

Preheat the oven to 335 degrees.

Whirl the almonds in the food processor until fine, then add the sugar and pulse some more until combined. Melt the butter in a small bowl and pour it into the almond and sugar, along with the egg yolk, egg, and whipping cream. Process to blend, and then pour the filling into the prepared crust.

Remove the remaining dough from the fridge and roll it out on a lightly-floured surface. Working quickly so that it doesn’t warm up too much and become difficult to work with, cut the dough into thin strips and arrange in a lattice or crisscross pattern on the top of the filling.

Mix the remaining egg yolk with a tablespoon of water and brush this over the top of the cake.

Bake approximately 40 minutes, depending on the size of your pan, until golden. Cool, then remove tart from pan.

Serves 8-12.

Fyrstekake and Slice

 

Bergen Fish Soup (Bergensk fiskesuppe)

Bergen Fish Soup

Everyone has their own idea of a place, a snapshot memory encapsulating the scenes, smells, and moods they experienced there. One person’s Paris is different than another’s. A visit to Seattle might be dreary for one and vibrant for another. With that in mind, let me take you to my Bergen–not the rain-soaked city you may picture, rightfully so given it rains there more than 260 days a year, but the place that exists in my personal catalogue of memories.

Golden skies bathed in sun-drenched heat. Chilled rosé in the cool, dim cave of our hotel restaurant. Seagulls perched on the roofs around the famous open-air seafood market. Bergen was alive when I visited in the summer of 2008. Ski boats ferried joyful passengers in the harbor housing Bryggen, the Hanseatic wharf. A biker could comfortably break out his ride with no concern of rain. Any restaurant with patio seating was the place to be.

Seafood for Bergen Fish Soup

I’ve been reliving that trip this past week since cooking a batch of Bergen Fish Soup (Bergensk fiskesuppe). The soup is one of the best fish soups in the world, right up there with bouillabaisse, according to chef Andreas Viestad. Some say the absolute proper way to make it, Viestad writes Kitchen of Light, is to purchase live pollock at the fish market–which is one of the biggest and best-known outdoor fish markets in northern Europe–and make the stock the same day. It’s possible to bring the taste of Bergen home, however, with quality fish stock, such as the halibut variety from our neighborhood fishmonger.

As with most classic dishes, the recipes and styles vary. One cook might choose to use only white fish while another might add salmon or perhaps scallops and prawns. Some add dumplings while others omit them. One person might ladle thick, chowder-like portions into bowls while a neighbor makes it on the lighter side with the seafood surrounded by a creamy broth.

No matter the style, the soup allows the flavor of the seafood to shine, proving that a handful of quality ingredients simply prepared can go a long way.

Prawns for Bergen Fish Soup

Bergen Fish Soup and Crispbread

Bergen Fish Soup (Bergensk fiskesuppe)
This version is on the light side, which makes it perfect for dinner on a late spring evening when you need a little warming. Adapted from Scandilicious: Secrets of Scandinavian Cooking by Signe Johansen, this recipe veers slightly from the traditional by adding a small amount of spices and giving sweetness with white wine and brandy rather than an abundance of root vegetales and a touch of sugar. Johansen grew up in Bergen, however, so she knows the essence of the soup and has created an elegant recipe that comes together so quickly it can easily be a weeknight meal. The mix of seafood is flexible; use whatever is fresh and available. 

6 1/3 cups quality fish stock
1 bay leaf
1 handful flat-leaf parsley stems, plus additional leaves for garnish
12 whole peppercorns
2 carrots, roughly diced
2 celery stalks, roughly diced
1 leek, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup brandy
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
3 1/2 ounces salmon fillet, cubed into 3/4-inch pieces
3 1/2 ounces prawns, shells removed
5 ounce cod fillet, cubed into 3/4-inch pieces
8 ounces clams, with shells
Finely-chopped chives, for garnish

Heat fish stock, bay leaf, parsley, peppercorns, carrots, celery, and leek in a large pan and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the wine and brandy and simmer for five more minutes, then add the cream. Once the soup has returned to a simmer, add the salmon, cod, and clams and cook for a minute or two before adding the prawns, which should only take an additional minute or two to cook.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with additional parsley leaves and chives. Serve with crispbread.

Serves 4.

Bergen Fish Soup

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