Potatoes are a staple food in Western nations, the equivalent of Asian white rice as the affordable so urce of dietary energy, a neutral foil to meats and other proteins, and a culinary ingredient that can be prepared in a variety of ways. Low-carbohydrate dieters may shun it, but I am sure it is one of those food items that they miss the most.
In a party buffet, I always make sure to include at least one potato dish in order to ensure full and satisfied guests without expending so much expense on the protein dishes. Since you are having a party, the potato dish can’t be a simple dinnertime fare like fries or baked potato; you want something a little special and unusual to delight your guests.
One potato dish that perhaps isn’t too familiar with Filipinos comes all the way from the Nordic lands, the Swedish potato dish called “Jansson’s Temptation.”
This baked casserole dish was supposedly named after Pelle Janzon, a Swedish opera singer of the early 1900s and a known gourmand. According to the official website of Sweden (Sweden.se), the recipe for this was published for the first time in the 1940s. It is considered a classic Swedish food.
The Swedish publication Nordstjernan has a different take on the matter. It related that the mother of writer Gunnar Stigmark was the one who thought of the dish and named it after a blockbuster Swedish movie in 1929 called “Janssons Frestelse.”
But whichever story is true, this is a dish that you can find in many Nordic and Swedish homes and restaurants especially during Christmas and other holiday celebrations.
OK, I’m holding something out, and you should, too, if you decide to cook and serve this to friends or family. You can play a guessing game with them and ask, “What is the secret ingredient of this dish?”
The answer is anchovies. Many won’t be able to answer correctly (except truly sophisticated palates for which you must be grateful to have him or her as a friend), especially since I veered away from the traditional recipe by chopping up the anchovies.
I was one of those who didn’t like anchovies, especially on my pizza, until the time I met someone wonderful to whom anchovy is a staple food and a culinary gift of the high seas. I can eat anchovies now but it has to be in little pieces so it doesn’t overwhelm me, or my food.
The lovely thing about this dish Jansson’s Temptation is that when you bake it, the anchovies will disappear into the creamy casserole leaving you only with full-flavored, delicious potatoes. The anchovies also serve the function of salt, so no need to add any other spice or seasoning.
The traditional ingredients for the Swedish version of this are actually pickled or spiced-cured sprats, which like anchovies are oily, salt-water forage fish. Nordstjernan recommends that in lieu of sprats you get the Swedish-style anchovy fillets from an IKEA store, saying that the Italian or American anchovies are too sweet. Hey, but I like sweet. My Filipino guests love sweet, too, so I’m happy to use the Italian anchovies.
This recipe is adapted from the classic Periplus Mini Cookbook that I’ve had for a while, Classic Essential Potatoes. Apart from my preference to mince the anchovies, I also do away with their traditional “matchstick” cut for the potatoes. Instead, I use an upright mandoline to get even and thin slices, and in under five minutes.
1 small can anchovy fillets, 56 grams (I use the Doña Elena brand)
About 56 grams of butter (half of a stick)
A separate 56 grams of butter, but this one cut into cubes
2 to 3 yellow onions, sliced (about 2 cups)
1.2 kilos of large potatoes
3 cups of heavy cream
1. Remove the anchovy fillets from the oils in the can, place them in a cutting board and mince finely. Set aside.
2. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius (400 degrees Fahrenheit).
3. Heat up a large sauté pan and cook the butter (the first half of a stick) until it melts. When hot but not smoking add the onions and sauté for about five minutes until they are golden and glistening. Turn off heat and set this aside.
4. Peel the potatoes and using a mandoline, slice them thinly, like for a classic potato chip.
5. Get an oven-proof baking dish and start layering. On the bottom of the dish, place about a third of the potato slices in an overlapping pattern. Next, spread half of the cooked onions on top of the potatoes, followed by half of the minced anchovies. Scatter them around so that the anchovy flavor is not concentrated in just one area.
6. Continue with another layer of potatoes, onions and anchovy. The final layer should be the last of the sliced potatoes.
7. Pour one and 1/2 cups of cream over the potato dish. Dot them with the butter cubes and place in the oven to bake for 20 minutes.
8. Take out of the oven after the aforementioned time and pour over another one and 1/2 cups of cream. Bake again for about 40 minutes or until golden. Serve with any meat dish or on its own as a snack or light meal.