Published December 12, 2008, 12:00 AM

SAM COOK: Just say no to lutefisk

I’m not Norwegian. I have no reason to eat lutefisk. No family tradition. No symbolic connection to “the old country.” Nothing.

By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune

I was driving home in the dark from another hunting trip when I allowed myself to begin thinking about the coming holiday season.

That’s when the Big “L” popped into my head. So clear was the image, it was as if the “L” had been seared into the gray matter of my brain. I knew it was only a matter of time.

The next morning, there it was. The e-mail from my old friend, Ken.

“It’s time to eat fish,” he had written. “Eagle’s Nest Resort, 5:30 p.m., Dec. 2.”

The Big “L.”


I’m not Norwegian. I have no reason to eat lutefisk. No family tradition. No symbolic connection to “the old country.” Nothing.

But Ken seems to have all of those. So, for reasons I don’t fully understand, I join him for a meal of lutefisk each December. Our friend Bill joins him, too. Bill and Ken actually like lutefisk, or as they call it — fish. As if there were no other kind of fish.

I do not mean to impugn those who enjoy eating lutefisk. Nor do I mean to insult Jolene, the woman who prepares the “fish” at Eagle’s Nest. According to Ken and Bill, she makes a fine lutefisk, which is why we drive up to this restaurant on Fish Lake to eat it.

There are those who would debate whether lutefisk made by anyone is worth eating, let alone to celebrate the season. But then, it’s all a matter of taste. People in Greenland catch birds in nets, sew them into sealskin bladders, bury them — feathers and all — and dig them out when they’re sufficiently rotted. Then eat them.

But this year when I received Ken’s note, I got to thinking: Sam, why do you live under the curse of the Big “L?” Why do you continue to pay for food you once called, in print, “gray, gelatinous goo.” Jolene still hasn’t gotten over that one.

Partially in jest, she asked me this winter to retract that statement. So, I hereby retract calling lutefisk “gray gelatinous goo.” I’d say it looks more like a quivering blob of pureed frog eggs. Or oatmeal Jell-O. Or octopus yogurt.

OK. We have that cleared up.

Anyway, we met for the fateful dinner at Eagle’s Nest, and I announced to Ken my new-found self-awareness about lutefisk.

“I’m having a hamburger,” I said.

I feared rejection, even retribution. But Ken, a true friend, gave me his blessing.

Our meal came. I looked at Ken’s plate. A primordial ooze of fish, set off by the customary potatoes and canned peas. But, wait. There were chunks of carrot in the peas. And a sprig of parsley on the side.

“I don’t know about all this color,” Ken said.

He moved the parsley off his plate.

Then he and Bill went at the steaming heap of jiggling cod.

“Mmmm,” they said.

“Good fish,” Ken said.

“Good fish,” Bill said.

“Good burger,” I said.

I felt I had had a real breakthrough. I savored every bite of that burger. I was so moved that I thought about writing a new Christmas carol to commemorate this initial lutefisk-free experience.

Maybe I’ll call it “The First No ‘L’.”

Happy Holidays.