Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Jansson's Temptation (Janssons Frestelse)

One of the most charming Swedish traditions is vickning.  To understand the tradition, you have to understand that Swedes are enthusiastic drinkers when at parties and a good party will go on until the wee hours of the morning.  To help soak up the alcohol and to politely signal the end of the party, a small fat laden meal will be served.  Usually a vickning has at least one warm dish, along with the ubiquitous hard bread and cheese.  A luxurious vickning may have some hot meatballs or sausages along with a delicious hot  creamy potato casserole, Janssens Temptation.  A portion of Jannsens is a perfect armor for facing the elements on the way home on a cold snowy night.

Janssens Tempation is not only traditional for a vickning, but is also present on the Swedish smorgasbord.  Although, Janssens is rarely served in Sweden as a side dish for a normal meal, I think it is delicious on its own for dinner, served with a green salad.  It would also be a fine dish to accompany slices of ham or a meatloaf.

The subtle flavor of this dish is from tinned Swedish ansjovis fillets. While the obvious translation would be anchovies, the fish are actually sprats, a kind of small herring.  They are pickled in sugar and salt and flavored with spices.  This spice mixture is what gives the casserole its characteristic flavor.  If you don't live in Sweden then you can find ansjovis at IKEA or at specialty shops. These days, you can buy them on-line, as well.  If you cannot get the Swedish kind, do not despair.  Use about half of a small tin of regular anchovies in oil, discarding the oil.  Then mix 1/8 teaspoon cloves, 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon ginger, and one teaspoon of sugar, with a tablespoon of vinegar and a tablespoon of water. Sprinkle this mixture in the recipe instead of the tinned juices.

If the idea of fish marinated in spices sounds strange and perhaps not appetizing, ignore those thoughts.  The finished dish has a subtle savory flavor and is not at all overpowering.  

6 medium sized potatoes (about 1 kilo)
2 large yellow onions
1 (4 1/2 ounce) tin Swedish ansjovis fillets
1 to 2 cups cream
4 to 6 tablespoons dry bread crumbs
2 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 425F (200C).  Butter a 2 quart shallow baking dish.
Peel potatoes and cut into slices, and then again lengthwise, so that you have stick-shaped pieces.  Peel onions and cut off either end.  Cut into half, length-wise, and then slice into strips.  Chop the anchovy fillets into little pieces, reserving the juice.

Put half of the potatoes in the dish.  Top with half of the onions.  Sprinkle the anchovy over the mixture.  Then, layer on the rest of the onions and then the potatoes.  Sprinkle the juice from the anchovy tin over the casserole.  Pour in cream until it is about 3/4 way up the potatoes.  Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top in a nice even layer.  Chop up the butter into little bits and sprinkle on the top.  

Bake in the oven for 45 to 50 minutes until the potatoes are tender and the top is browned.  This dish can be made up to two days in advance and re-heated.  In fact, it is actually better if you make it the day before and re-heat it.  The cream is absorbed into the potatoes and the flavors will beautifully meld.

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