It's fading from Minn. households, but lutefisk is still king at Minneapolis' Mindekirken

A boy wearing a green bandana around his neck smiles at the table.
Aldo Norton, 23 months old, at Mindekirken's annual lutefisk dinner in Minneapolis on Saturday.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

From now until Christmas, it's the time in these parts where diners in Norwegian sweaters crowd into church basements to partake in a holiday tradition: a dinner of reconstituted, dried codfish that's been preserved in lye, and then brought back to glistening life as lutefisk.

Mindekirken, or the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church, in south Minneapolis has been the premier destination for this Norwegian feast for decades. Each year its volunteers serve some 500 diners on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

But many say the lutefisk tradition is fading in Minnesota households.

“My family used to have lutefisk every Christmas, but since I’ve been around, that’s dwindled in favor of halibut or salmon,” said Peter Storvick, one of the younger volunteers. “So it’s nice to get back into the tradition of it.”

One reason it may be falling out of favor is it’s hard to get just right. While fish suppliers now offer the fish in its reconstituted form, saving families days of soaking the fish, it’s still tricky to cook.

“If you overcook it, it can become like soup and then it’s not any good. If you undercook it, it’s not all that good either,” said Curt Aaseng, who organizes the dinner and calls himself “chief lutefisk.”

“It’s a pretty fine line between overcooked and undercooked,” he said.

With consistently sold-out seatings, it seems Mindekirken gets it just right. As volunteers on Saturday brought out platters of lutefisk, they quickly promised diners they’d be back with second and third helpings.

The event serves as a fundraiser for the church, which stands as the center of Norwegian culture in Minnesota, drawing worshipers from as far as an hour away with its Norwegian-language services.

Upcoming lutefisk dinners around Minnesota:

To hear sounds from this year’s Lutefisk dinner — including what Minnesota newcomers Christine Nguyen, senior photojournalist at MPR, and Megan Burks, a producer for All Things Considered, thought of the meal — click play on the audio player above.

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