Rakfisk is char or trout that is salted and fermented for up to a year. The traditional Norwegian dish has such a strong odor—comparisons include old cheese and dirty socks—that most diners chase it with a bracing shot of aquavit.
The name rakfisk comes from the preservation process known as raking, in which fishermen fill the gutted fish with salt and sugar, then store it in a cool space under pressure. This aging process leads to the dish’s signature aromas. But once diners get past the smell, the taste of rakfisk is actually mild, slightly salty, and a bit tangy. Always eaten raw, it’s typically sliced and served with lefse (flatbread), red onions, sour cream, potatoes, and occasionally a mustard-dill sauce.
Rakfisk may remind some diners of the equally pungent Scandinavian specialty known as lutefisk. Both are odorous fermented fish that are most popular around Christmastime. A few key differences: Lutefisk is dried whitefish that gets rehydrated in water and lye. And while lutefisk is made across Sweden, Norway, and parts of Finland, all rakfisk must come from the southern district of Valdres, Norway.