hen I was a kid my little Swedish granny lived with us. That was great, until the Holidays rolled around and we were subjected to the annual ritual of consuming a vile Scandinavian food called lutfisk (spelled lutefisk in Norway). It was a special thing for granny, but for us? Not so much.
For those lucky enough not to know, lutfisk is cod (or other whitefish) that has been dried and preserved in a lye concoction until it is caustic*. Nowadays it is available in stores ready to cook, but in my youth it was not so simple. To make it edible, it had to be soaked in fresh water for 5 or 6 days, changing the water daily, at the end of which period it is translucent with an unappealing gelatinous texture. Mom would then parboil it briefly, taking care that the pieces didn’t fall apart, and serve it up piping hot with peas and new potatoes in a white sauce that included some of the pungent water in which the fish had been cooked. Oh yum.
I should mention that it must be eaten while piping hot; once it cools even the most ardent devotees have trouble enjoying it. Even the redoubtable Garrison Keillor spoke ill of the dish in his book Pontoon:
Lutefisk is cod that has been dried in a lye solution. It looks like the desiccated cadavers of squirrels run over by trucks, but after it is soaked and reconstituted and the lye is washed out and it’s cooked, it looks more fish-related, though with lutefisk, the window of success is small. It can be tasty, but the statistics aren’t on your side. It is the hereditary delicacy of Swedes and Norwegians who serve it around the holidays, in memory of their ancestors, who ate it because they were poor. Most lutefisk is not edible by normal people. It is reminiscent of the afterbirth of a dog or the world’s largest chunk of phlegm.
We kids thought it was nasty stuff, and it smelled foul, too. The kitchen smelled like rotten cod for days right around Christmas time. Even the family dog made herself absent from her customary spot under the kitchen table on lutfisk day. It’s so potent that if you don’t clean all of its residue from plates, pans and utensils immediately you’ll NEVER get it off. And it will permanently ruin Sterling silver.
Mom claimed to love it, but we all took quiet notice that after Granny passed away lutfisk never darkened our dinner table again.
With that memory haunting me, it is with great pleasure that I embrace the Holiday culinary traditions of Mexico, not one of which smells or tastes bad!
Christmas is wonderful in Mexico, and the celebrations last a full three weeks, ending with Three Kings Day on January 6, so you can really get into the swing of things. And accompanying every celebration is an abundance of succulent foods that makes me drool like Pavlov’s dogs just thinking about it.
Instead of a traditional north-of-the-border Christmas dinner this year, why not give some of Mexico’s traditions a try? You can choose the adventure of cooking something delicious yourself at home, or if you’re staying in a timeshare in Mexico you can have the pleasure of choosing a traditional Mexican Christmas meal at one of any number of wonderful restaurants you’ll encounter there. Here are some ideas for you (you can google or bing for the recipes):
- Chimayo Cocktails (a wonderful but not well known apple cider drink with tequila)
- Horchada, a beverage made with rice water that is flavored with lime and cinnamon and sweetened with sugar.
- Champurrado, a a chocolate-based atole made of corn flour and water or milk, with cinnamon and vanilla
- Ponche Navideño
- Chiles en Nogada, poblano chiles filled with picadillo (a mixture usually containing shredded meat, aromatics, fruits and spices) topped with a walnut-based cream sauce, called nogada, and pomegranate seeds, giving it the three colors of the Mexican flag: green for the chili, white for the nut sauce and red for the pomegranate.
- Tamales: Chicken, pork, beef, vegetarian, choose your fillings.
- Romeritos in Mole; romerito, which means “little rosemary” in English, is a wild plant known as seepweed. It’s a pretty interesting plant that looks vaguely like rosemary but tastes more like a tart, salty spinach. Usually it is cooked with potatoes, dried shrimp and peppers in mole sauce. And yes, it tastes much better than it sounds.
- Posole: a big pot of delicious soup perfect for those who might be suffering from hangovers
- Mexican Christmas Cookies
- Rosca de Reyes (a wreath-shaped sweet bread)
- Buñuelos de Navidad (Christmas sweet fritters)
- Tres Leche Cake
You can’t go wrong with any of those delicious dishes. Make a party out of it by inviting your friends over for Christmas Eve, and have each one bring a Mexican dish. It’s lots of fun, lots of good eating, lots of laughter.
And the very best part? NO LUTFISK!
(*The Wisconsin Employees’ Right to Know Law specifically exempts lutfisk in defining “toxic substances”.)
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