Lutefisk is a traditional dish throughout much of the Nordic region. However, the main ingredient is typically Northern Norwegian: dried cod fish from the coast of Northern Norway. Bone dry and easy to transport, dried fish became an important trade commodity a thousand years ago, and Catholic fasting periods helped increase its popularity. Some people eat lutefisk at Christmas, but most people also enjoy it throughout the autumn and winter months.
Not so many years ago, halibut was traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve in Northern Norway. Nowadays, the Christmas dinner table tends to be full of meat, but halibut is still popular with many people. Some restaurants serve halibut cooked the old-fashioned way, steamed with potatoes and vegetables, whereas upscale restaurants prefer to serve it with sophisticated sauces and elegant trimmings. Kveiterekling is dried lengths of halibut fat that make for tasty snacks.
After Christmas, the Northeast Arctic cod comes to the coast to spawn. This is the traditional Lofoten Fishery, which is always held at this time of year at the outermost part of Lofoten, off the coast of Vesterålen and as far up as Senja. Fresh cod with liver and roe is delicious with potatoes and carrots, and is a highly nutritious meal, full of the right kinds of fatty acids and proteins. As everything, including the potatoes, was traditionally cooked in the same pan, the dish became known as mølja, which means “mess”.
Other cod delicacies
Before the modern era, people naturally made use of every part of the cod. Even nowadays, boys (and an increasing numbers of girls) cut the tongues out of the freshly cut heads. These are breaded and fried in butter, and are light and easily digestible. The cod cheeks also contain a lot of tasty meat. A slightly more challenging dish for many people is Kamsemager, which is cod stomachs that are stuffed with cod liver. It is surprisingly delicious, oozing with all the healthy fat from the liver.
Møljeslag and lutefisk buffet
While these specialities used to be part of people’s everyday fare, nowadays Northern Norwegians descend on restaurants to eat lutefisk before Christmas, and mølje after Christmas. Choirs, friends, neighbours and work colleagues meet up for these dinners, and with aquavit as an obligatory accompaniment, the evenings can become quite lively! In the mølje season, you can also find Oslo’s food writers getting down to the serious business of tasting this speciality in the restaurants of Northern Norway, now that mølje has become an international food phenomenon that they don’t want to miss out on.
There’s no need to dry the fish out completely. All over the verandas of Northern Norway, people dry their own fish in wire baskets. After a week or two, when the fish is half dry, it is boiled and served with potatoes, stewed peas and bacon. This is traditional rustic fare, but it is becoming more and more popular in restaurants.
We usually associate shellfish with summer. Truth be told though, shellfish taste much better in winter, because that’s when they’re bigger and firmer. Scallops, cockles, mussels and horse mussels have now made their way onto the menus of Northern Norway, even in winter. The people of Northern Norway used to think that shellfish were no good for anything more than bait, so this type of cuisine is fairly new here, and tends to have a more Mediterranean flavour. King crab is harvested all year round, and you can come face to face with these monsters on special crab fishing trips.