Johnnie St. Vrain: On the lookout for lutefisk

December 09, 2014


Dear Johnnie: On Christmas Eve each year, my family and I enjoy lutefisk for dinner. After the Pantry Market on Francis Street closed, I have been unable to find good lutefisk.

Do the former owners have another store somewhere, or would you or your readers know of a place to purchase lutefisk? — Hungry Swede

Dear Hungry Swede: I'm not here to judge Scandinavians, but I've spoken with people who have tried lutefisk, and they would not put it in the same sentence with "enjoy" and "good.”

But I am here to help.

I turned to the Sons of Norway. The Stein Fjell Lodge hosts an annual lutefisk and meatball dinner in Loveland every fall. I figured that they would lead me to the lutefisk.

But they order their lutefisk from the Olsen Fish Co. in Minneapolis, according to Sons member Rod Skaflen. "We buy 50-pound boxes of it," Skaflen told me.

I called Olsen's "Lutefisk hotline" for help — "we're mostly wholesale. definitely the largest in the United States," the man on the other end said — but they could not direct me to retailers who carry it.

So I headed over to the Blue Reef fish company, at 900 Coffman St. in Longmont. Joan Leonhardt, whose husband owns Blue Reef, told me that their shop can order lutefisk for customers. But if you want it for Christmas, Leonhardt told me, order it as soon as possible.

Finally, Swede, I made one last call, to Tom's Seafood & Specialties on Xenon Court in Lakewood.

"We always have it, year 'round" owner Tom Butler told me.

Butler gave me brief history lesson about lutefisk, which is Norwegian for "lye fish."

"It's a Scandinavian thing," he said. "At least in the old days, it's how they preserved (cod). They would cut it down the middle, remove the guts ... flatten it out and shovel lye on it. Then roll it up in a burlap bag and bury it in the backyard. Yum."

These days, lutefisk is soaked in water and lye before being baked. Its consistency is described as "gelatinous."

Do any the Sons of Norway ever show up at Butler's shop?

"I see them a lot, especially around the holidays," he said. "They are good customers."

But not all of the Sons are fans of lutefisk.

"I don't really care for it," Skaflen said. "I get the Swedish meatballs."