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Iron Bay Chef – Lutefisk with Boiled Potatoes and Cinderberry Puree


For the lutefisk –
5 fresh wiggyfish fillets, each weighing about 1 pound (actually, get many more fillets than this (more on why later))
Lots of cold water
9 pounds Lye/caustic soda – your local mad scientist is sure to have some on hand

For the potatoes –
20 medium (or 30 small) potatoes

For the puree –
2 pounds cinderberries
Water (or vegetable or meat stock)
4 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 stick butter
1 cup cream

Other equipment needed –
1 mallet
1 drying rack
1 pH meter
1 weather almanac
1 space/time machine – given the propensity of these strange machines to show up in New Babbage, you shouldn’t have much trouble “borrowing” one. (Note: at other times, you can do this in the usual time-linear fashion, but for this contest, and for other times you’re in a hurry, you will need to time-travel quite a bit.)

First off, you need to make the stockfish. Take the wiggyfish fillets, lye, and the drying rack, and go find a space/time machine. Use it to take yourself off to the Fells area, either during early to mid-November, or early March, when the outside temperatures are most consistently hovering just above freezing. (You could also do this at the seashore, but you will run the risk of people figuring out what you’re doing and trying to stop you. Not because of the indiscriminate time travel, but because of what you’re making.) If the temperatures go too high or too low, consult your weather almanac and find another stretch of time that matches what you need, and use the space/time machine to travel there. Repeat as necessary until the fillets have experienced several weeks of drying, and are now hard slabs that will keep for years if stored in a cool, dry space. (You could probably test this out yourself, depending on how far back in time you’ve gone.)

(Note: yes, you could do this air-drying mechanically in a controlled atmosphere, but you won’t get the full flavor development that occurs with naturally-dried fish. And if you’re going to this much trouble, you may as well go for the full experience.)

So, after several weeks, you have your stockfish. But I’m afraid you’re not even close to finished yet. It is now time to “lute” the fish, which means to soak it in a combination of water and lye (or other alkaline substance – very traditional luting is done with a mixture of ashes and slaked lime). This causes the dried fish to swell into an even bigger size than what it was when fresh. (The high alkalinity charges the muscle fibre proteins with positive electricity, making them repel each other and weaken their bond, resulting in a flesh with jelly-like consistency.)

First, take your mallet and pound five dried fillets to soften them–and to work out any aggravation you might be experiencing at how long this is taking. Then place the fish in a mixture of cold water and lye. The amounts and proportion of the luting ingredients depends greatly on the quality, texture, and fat content of the dried fish; thus, it would actually be best to dry considerably more than five wiggyfish fillets, so you’ll have plenty on which to experiment. Use dense protective gloves to handle the lye, and make your preparations in a well-ventilated area (as the Fells certainly are), as you will soon notice a rather strong odor. Place a weight on the fish to keep it submerged, and leave it to soak for anywhere from three days to one week, until the fillets are sufficiently swelled and softened

(Note: do *not* let the fish soak for too long, or its fat will start to saponify–convert to soap. Soaking for too long will also cause the proteins in the fish to “melt” when it is cooked, reducing the flesh almost to nothing.)

Once this is done, the fish must be soaked again in cold water to remove the excess lye. This soaking time also depends on the quality of the fish and the type of lye used. Be careful–if the soaking time is too short, the fish will turn into jelly and disintegrate when cooked; if too long, it will become too hard and firm. During the first days, the soaking water must be changed daily. The final product should have a pH of around 10.5 to 11. (The pH meter will come in handy at this point.)

If your fish looks reasonably, but not too, firm, congratulations! You can finally return to your own time and place, and finish cooking this meal! (If not, get yourself another set of dried fillets and try again.)

Cut the fillets into even-sized pieces, and place skin-side down in a buttered glass or ceramic oven dish. Sprinkle or rub the pieces with salt, and cover the oven dish tightly with a heavy lid. Bake in a 400F until the flesh starts to turn white and flaky. Baking time will vary, depending on the size and thickness of the fish pieces. (A good rule of thumb is to bake about 15 minutes per 2 pounds of fish. Check after about the first 20-30 minutes, and if necessary, keep checking every 5 to 10 minutes after that.)

While the fish is cooking, peel the potatoes and place them in a saucepan, covering them with salted water. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until they are thoroughly cooked. Strain out the water, remove the lid, and let excess steam escape by placing the saucepan back on the warm stove for a few minutes.

During this time, you can also prepare the puree. Cook the cinderberries in another saucepan in just enough water or stock to cover, until they are thoroughly tender. Strain them, reserving the cooking liquid. Push the cinderberries through a fine sieve to make a puree. Return that puree to the saucepan, and add the salt, sugar, cream, and butter. Reheat the puree, watching its consistency. If it’s too thin, let it cook for a few minutes longer; if too thick, add some water, cream, or stock.

These other preparations should distract you from the odor of the cooking lutefisk. If you have any down times, though, you can watch the paint peel off the walls. Hopefully, you’ve already been considering a change of color in the kitchen. And the dining room. And the parlor. And the front hall. And the bedrooms…

Once everything is done cooking, you can assemble the dish. Carefully lift out a piece of fish and place on a (preferably warmed) plate. Drizzle this with a bit of melted butter, and place some potatoes and a dollop of cinderberry puree alongside. The amounts given in the list at the beginning will serve 10 Scandinavians. If your guests are not Scandinavian, the potatoes and cinderberry puree will serve 10 diners. The lutefisk… about 100.

(Many thanks to the Norwegian Recipe Archive ( for the information on lutefisk preparation and cooking!)

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  1. Junie Ginsburg Junie Ginsburg September 12, 2013


    I can tell already that I’m going to end up with fish soap at the end of this one.  And that someone will undoubtedly use it to wash out my mouth from all the cursing I’ve done as a result.

    • Bookworm Hienrichs Bookworm Hienrichs September 12, 2013

      *whistles innocently, hiding a grin*

  2. Bookworm Hienrichs Bookworm Hienrichs September 12, 2013


  3. Mortimer Morlock Mortimer Morlock September 12, 2013

    I would like to withdraw my Taster application.

    • Bookworm Hienrichs Bookworm Hienrichs September 13, 2013

      Noooooo! Don’t do that! There’s room for all recipes in this contest, I’m sure.

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