Lutefisk was created as a way to preserve fish, prior to refrigeration. The cod was dried on outdoor racks. Then, to make it expand, it was soaked in water and then in lye, which was made out of wood ash. Lye expands the fish to an even bigger size than when it was dried, and gives lutefisk its characteristic jelly-like quality...More information in an article at the Minnesota Public Radio website. And if you think lutefisk sounds disgusting, remember at least it's not kiviaq.
"Lutefisk sales, ever since I started [in 1995] has dropped down, I would say, anywhere from 5 to 8 percent a year," said Chris Dorff, president of the Olsen Fish Company in Minneapolis, the only high-volume producer of lutefisk left in the country.
Still, the dinners persist, and Dorff said the churches he sells to report that attendance has held firm — there's just a lot less lutefisk stomached. Dorff said he used to plan a pound of fish per person. Now he cuts that in half.