Have you ever tried a lutefisk burrito?
KASSON — Ashley Abel is 16, half Norwegian and, until a week ago, had never tasted lutefisk. She has, of course, heard of the legendary Norwegian fish, which is the butt of many jokes but also center of many Norwegian holiday meals.
"I've heard it smells bad, and I've heard it's really good, too," she said.
Abel, of Kasson, is also intent on becoming a surgeon. As a budding scientist, she knows she has to check things out for herself, "be open to anything." She can't rely solely on what others say.
A week ago, before the 10th Annual Holiday Lutefisk Dinner for residents, family and friends at Prairie Meadows Senior Living in Kasson, she decided to taste lutefisk, though just a nibble.
She winced. She flinched. She grimaced.
"It tastes fishy," she said. Scratch one potential lutefisk lover.
But Pat Blum believes there's hope for Abel. He's an owner of the facility where Abel works and is also part Norwegian. When he was young, he too disliked the famed "delicacy" but eventually came around to like lutefisk.
"It's a poor man's lobster," he said.
His advice to Abel: Try a lutefisk burrito. Make sure the fish is not overcooked, roll it in lefse (another famous Norwegian dish, but made from potatoes), dip it in butter, lean over the plate or bowl so you won't get butter on you and try it. "You'll like it," he said.
The popularity of lutefisk is evident during the annual meal at Prairie Meadows.
Colette Miles, executive director, said it's the kickoff to the holiday season, a tradition started at the older facility, Meadow Lakes in Rochester. Tables in Kasson were set with extra decorations, including napkins shaped as Christmas trees.
Miles confessed that she's Norwegian, "but I don't eat it. I'm scared. The smell and texture are more than I can handle. My grandpa would be ashamed of me. He loved it, but he was a good Norwegian."
Lutefisk is popular, she conceded, "Not just the Norwegians like it. We spread the wealth."
Her theory is that people love lutefisk because of what's on it. "They like butter," she said.
It's getting harder to buy lutefisk, she said. They once got it from the store in tiny Oslo in southeast Dodge County, but that store quit selling it. They now buy lutefisk from stores in Rochester and Kasson. The lefse comes from Norsland Lefse in Rushford. For the record, Miles said, "I love lefse."
The dinner is a big deal, said Kabrie Miller, the dietary director at Prairie Meadows. "They look forward to it. They ask in the fall if we're going to have it."
She suggested that everyone try it. "It's full of butter. Who doesn't like butter?"
For those who don't care for lutefisk, the dinner also offered roast pork loin and Swedish meatballs, along with salads, mashed potatoes and gravy, rice pudding, lefse and Norwegian desserts. In all, they served about 200 people.
When people came through the line, some declined the bowl of lutefisk and butter with a polite "no thank you."
Others eagerly grabbed the bowl.
"It's an acquired taste," Blum said. "It's a love-hate thing."