Dear Answer Man, we all know we're supposed to get so many servings of fish a week for our health. Would lutefisk count as one of those servings and how much would I have to eat? -- Susie, a Mantorville Norwegian
I'm not lye-ing, Susie's got a good question here. A lot of people who would say lutefisk isn't really fish, it's more akin to Jell-O, but in fact it starts in the ocean and is still a member of the fish family despite everything that Nordic cooks do to it.
Fresh fish, like fresh anything else, is best. Whenever you dry or salt a fish to preserve it, you lose a lot of its nutritional value. If you're eating lutefisk for heart-healthy Omega-3 values, for example, you may as well chow down on a cheeseburger instead. Much of the protein is lost in the lye-soaking process, and then as the fish is boiled, you continue to cook away more dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals, not to mention flavor. You might still get some traces of iron and calcium, but at that point, who cares? The healthy qualities are wiped out by the melted butter, cream sauce or whatever you're using to make it palatable.
So, does it count as a serving of fish? No, I'd count it as a third-serving, more along the line of fish sticks.
The good news: An 8-ounce glob of lutefisk, before you make it swim in butter, only has about half the calories of a serving of Swedish meatballs.
Garrison Keillor wrote about the horrors of lutefisk in his first novel, "Lake Wobegon Days": "Every Advent we entered the purgatory of lutefisk, a repulsive gelatinous fishlike dish that tasted of soap and gave off an odor that would gag a goat. We did this in honor of Norwegian ancestors, much as if survivors of a famine might celebrate their deliverance by feasting on elm bark. I always felt the cold creeps as Advent approached, knowing that this dread delicacy would be put before me and I'd be told, 'Just have a little.' Eating a little was like vomiting a little, just as bad as a lot."
But a little lutefisk once or twice a year won't hurt you.