Tradition with a twist
Bothell Sons of Norway Lodge serves up lutefisk and all the trimmings with a drive-thru dinner
CHRISTY OLSEN FIELD
Taste of Norway Editor
The Norwegian American
The lutefisk dinners are a sacred tradition for so many Norwegian Americans, and the pandemic has forced many groups to cancel their events or pivot to a new approach to make sure people get their annual lutefisk fix.
I didn’t grow up with lutefisk, even though both sides of my family are proudly Norwegian-American, and I tried making for the first time last year. (You can read all about the experience here: norwegianamerican.com/lutefisk-love-at-first-bite). This year, my goal was to try lutefisk prepared by people who truly know how to make it.
The Bothell Sons of Norway Lodge #2-106 in Bothell, Wash., is well-known for its lutefisk dinner, and the event is hosted on the first Saturday of December every year. I am a new member of the lodge as of September but haven’t made it to an in-person event yet because of the pandemic. The lodge hosted a drive-thru lutefisk dinner in 2020 with great success, and this year’s drive-thru event was held Dec. 4.
Before the lutefisk dinner, I called Chris Hicks, who spearheads the lutefisk dinner at the Bothell Lodge, to learn more about the lodge’s lutefisk dinner and how they pivoted successfully to a drive-thru event.
Christy Olsen Field: How did you get the idea to do a drive-thru lutefisk dinner?
Chris Hicks: The Bothell Sons of Norway Lodge has hosted a lutefisk dinner every year for 48 years. When the pandemic hit last year, we had a number of meetings to talk about how to do our annual lutefisk dinner. We have a successful Swedish pancake drive-thru breakfast, so we decided to do a lutefisk dinner drive-thru.
COF: What kind of things did you consider?
CH: We decided to host a couple drive-thru dinners in the fall to practice. We did a meatball dinner in October, and then a turkey dinner in November to benefit Hopelink, a local social services nonprofit.
From those dinners, we learned that reservations were key, so we could have the dinners as hot as possible. People tell us the time they will be there and then pick it up in a 15-minute window. Some people come exactly at the right time, others … do not. Lutefisk is cooked throughout the day to keep it fresh, so reservations help us to make sure it’s hot and ready to eat.
COF: Where do you source your lutefisk, and how do you prepare it for a large group?
CH: We buy our lutefisk from New Day Fisheries in Port Townsend, Wash. Their lutefisk is really high quality, and they deliver it to us. We boil it in cheesecloth, and then take it out and steam it right before serving to heat it through. Lutefisk is a little touchy to cook, honestly. We had one batch that failed this year, but there is always a batch that fails.
COF: How many people do you serve for these lutefisk dinners?
CH: In the old days, we would serve 1,100 people in six hours. Before the pandemic, we would serve about 600 to 700 people in a day. This year, we sold 250 dinners. The dwindling numbers are because the older generation is gone. We have had a lot of people who came as a family to our lutefisk dinner because Grandpa wanted to come. We hope people will be back to try it again!
The day arrived for the lutefisk drive-thru dinner on Dec.4. I made a reservation for 11 a.m., right when they opened. My husband, Carl, and I arrived at 10:45 as the first car, but cars lined up right behind us.
Rather than driving 20 minutes home, we decided to make it a car picnic in the lodge parking lot so we could enjoy the lutefisk at its peak freshness.
I admit, I was a little (okay, very) nervous about the potential odor of the lutefisk in the car. Much to my relief, it didn’t smell at all!
The lutefisk dinner cost $25 per person, and the friendly welcome crew took my payment and directed our car to the lodge entrance. The runners delivered two Styrofoam takeout boxes. Each box came with a generous portion of lutefisk with containers of melted butter and hvitsaus (white sauce, a typical sauce served in Norway), served with boiled potatoes and kjøttboller (meatballs). The kjøttboller were my favorite bites—so rich and savory! On the side were a cup of cole slaw and some lefse, and three Danish butter cookies for dessert.
I took a bite of the lutefisk with some trepidation. It was really nothing to be afraid of. The lutefisk was served hot! The flavor was mild! The texture was flaky, with none of the dreaded “Jell-O effect.” This flakiness is a hallmark of the New Day Fisheries lutefisk and a testament to the lutefisk chefs at the lodge.
I found that I preferred the hvitsaus instead of the melted butter. If I were eating it at home, I would have added a squeeze of lemon juice for brightness and a sprinkle of crunchy finishing salt. (I am who I am.) But really, the whole meal was a pleasant experience.
The appeal of lutefisk is still a mystery for me (because why eat preserved fish when fresh fish is readily available at the store?), but I am willing to give it another try. I imagine the camaraderie of sitting among lutefisk lovers in a dining hall would have more ambiance than my cold car in the lodge parking lot, but it was still an enjoyable experience.
I hope the lodge lutefisk dinners can be in person next year, and I applaud the Bothell Sons of Norway Lodge and other lodges and churches for their creative approach to serving lutefisk to the Norwegian-American masses in the second year of this pandemic.
How do you like your lutefisk? Did you attend a lutefisk dinner this year? I’d love to hear from you! Write to me at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared in the Dec. 17, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.