So now you’ve got your hands on some really fine mayonnaise, you’ll be wanting to use it to make a really fine potato salad. The ingredients list here is a simple one. Use the best waxy little potatoes you can; I used Roseval, which have a sweet, yellow flesh sometimes tinged with red rings. Pink Fir Apple, all knobbly and smooth-skinned, are another favourite, but Jersey Royals are best of all, and this is a great way to showcase their delicate flavour during their short season (around May and June). Don’t peel your potatoes or scrub off their delicate skins when you clean them; much of the potato’s flavour is held just below the skin, and the tasty skins themselves are a good source of vitamin C.
You can boil or steam your potatoes. Many varieties of new potato are perfectly happy being boiled, but if you’re not familiar with the variety you’ve chosen, steam them – they’re less likely to crack or collapse this way.
The sweet red onions in this salad should be sliced as fine as you possibly can. They’re less harsh this way, and their flavour gently infuses the whole salad. If you have a mandoline (mine, which I love and fear in equal measure, was a present from my lovely in-laws – I am pretty sure they are not trying to kill me, but that rather, they imagine I’m actually competent around razor-sharp blades), set it to slice paper-thin. If you’re using a knife, sharpen it before you start on the onion to help you slice thinly.
To make enough potato salad for a side-dish for four, you’ll need:
500g new potatoes
3 spring onions
½ red onion
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons crème fraîche
1 teaspoon nonpareil capers, drained of their vinegar
1 heaping teaspoon grainy Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped finely
Steam or boil the potatoes for 20 minutes, and allow to cool to a point where you can handle them. While the potatoes are cooling, slice the red onion into paper-thin half-moons, and chop the spring onions on the diagonal into 1cm pieces. Mix together the mayonnaise, crème fraîche, capers, mustard and parsley in a bowl.
Cut the warm potatoes into slices and toss them well with the onions in a serving bowl. Pour over the dressing, toss again and serve. You shouldn’t need any additional salt, but taste to check and season if you want to.
I’ve held off for couple of weeks post-Christmas on this, because I am assuming that today is approximately the day when most of you will be getting sick of your New Year’s resolution to avoid crispy skin, potatoes softened beautifully with goose drippings, and tender forkfuls of breast meat. Everybody else should herewith bookmark this page for Christmas 2011, by which time things festive will no longer cause your gorge to rise.
A goose this large will feed six or more, although you won’t have the great buckets of leftovers that turkeys generate. (All the better, to my mind.) And it turned out superbly; I’m not sure whether this goose or the obscenely juicy brined turkey from Christmas 2008 would win in a fight. Our goose was tender and moist, filled near unto bursting (you can see the straining of the gap where it was sewed shut in the picture) with one of the best stuffings I’ve ever made, all wrapped up in a golden, crispy skin. If you do end up cooking this for a family occasion, you’ll also find yourself the proud possessor of a massive tub of goose fat to pop in the fridge. My Mum suggested turning it into a fatball for the poor starving robins in the snow. I said pshaw, and chilled it in jam jars for future potatoes.
Geese were, of course, the upper-class Christmas comestible of choice in England until being supplanted by the filthy heathen turkey from America, which Dickens did a lot to popularise by putting one on the Cratchit’s table. Medieval swanks would spend a day’s wages on a fat goose (and they are fat, even if not raised for foie – be sure to remove the lumps of poultry fat from the body cavity before you begin cooking, and render them down in a pan over a low heat for the lovely drippings), which they would roast on a spit over a fire, the skin coloured with saffron in butter for a chi-chi golden tone. The goose tradition carried on until Dickens all but killed it with A Christmas Carol. These days, we all have ovens, and you can buy Heston’s gold leaf at Waitrose instead and poke at it gently all over the bird with a soft brush, if your family is the sort that really needs impressing, but I think the skin is perfectly golden enough if you cook it using the method below.
Potato stuffing is the perfect choice for a bird as fatty as a goose. Use a fluffy, floury potato; I chose King Edwards. The potato will soak up the bird’s delicious juices in a way that will astonish you, and takes on flavour from the sage, onion and pancetta it’s mixed with, which flavours also impregnate the flesh of the goose. A couple of sweet eating apples cut into small chunks and stirred into the mixture will collapse on cooking to give the whole stuffing a very gentle background sweetness which is glorious against the rich meat. Buy the best goose you can afford; the way your bird is raised, killed and butchered really does make a difference. We had a beautiful free-range goose, good-smelling even when raw, from Franklin’s Farm, which supplies my parents’ local farmers’ market.
To serve about six people you’ll need:
A goose weighing between 5 and 6kg
1 kg King Edward potatoes
2 Granny Smith apples
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
Leaves from 1 stalk fresh rosemary
1 large handful (about 25g) sage leaves, chopped finely
1 teaspoon salt
Your goose should start off at room temperature, so make sure it’s out of the fridge for long enough to lose any chill.
Peel the potatoes, chop them into pieces about 1 inch square, and simmer them until soft (about ten minutes from the time they come to the boil if you start them off in cold water). While the potatoes are cooking, peel and core the apples, and chop them into small pieces. Peel and dice the onion.
Melt the butter in a large, heavy frying pan, and saute the onion, apple and pancetta together with the thyme and bay until the onion is soft and sweet, but not coloured (about 8 minutes – see the picture for the sort of texture you’re aiming for). Remove from the heat to a very large mixing bowl with the buttery juices.
When the potatoes are soft, drain them and add them to the mixing bowl with the rosemary, sage and salt. Stir the stuffing mixture well to make sure all the ingredients are blended.
Remove any poultry fat from inside the bird’s cavity – if you’re lucky there should be at least a couple of fist-sized white chunks in there. You can use scissors to snip it into pieces and dry-fry it over a low heat to render it down for a jar of goose fat for the fridge if you like. It goes without saying that you should remove the packet of giblets too – if you want giblet stock, simmer them without the liver (which does not make good stock) in some water. You can use that liver – my Dad and I have a bit of a tradition of chopping it up and cooking it along with some good curry paste in a little bowl sat in some water, covered with some tin foil, then spreading it on toast for Boxing Day breakfast.
Heat the oven to 225ºC.
Spoon all of the stuffing into the bird, and use stout cotton and a thick needle to sew the gap shut. If you can’t face it, you can also use skewers to secure it, but this will be much less neat. Weigh the stuffed bird and put it on a rack in a large baking tray.
Cook the goose at 225ºC for half an hour, then bring the heat down to 180ºC, taking the opportunity to pour off the fat that will have rendered out of the bird in that first hour – save it for spuds. After the initial 30 minutes at 225ºC, cook the goose at 180ºC for 30 minutes per kg stuffed weight, pouring off the fat regularly.
Check that the juices run clear by poking a skewer behind the thigh. The juices should run clear. Rest the goose for ten minutes before carving.
I’ve never really understood why some people get so squeamish about black pudding. I know, I know – it’s blood, back fat and barley – but surely that’s no more upsetting than the gubbins that goes into a standard sausage? Dr W encourages me to mention a chitterling and tripe-tastic andouillette he ate in Paris once, which, he claims, “tasted of bums”. Black pudding is infinitely nicer.
My suspicion is that people recalling cut lips imagine black puddings to taste bloody and metallic. These flavours are absent from a black pudding, which is actually deeply savoury, delicately spiced (especially if you get your mitts on a particularly good one, like these from Bury in Lancashire), and, cooked properly, has a wonderful texture: crisp, sticky and crumbling all at once.
The Bury black pudding is, for my tastes, the most reliable and delicious you’ll find in the UK, and many butchers and supermarkets all over the country carry them – you can also order them online from the makers. (At a supermarket, you’re more likely to find one on the deli counter than the butchery counter.) They’re seriously, seriously good; porky, plump and gorgeously spiced. The recipe is a secret, but apparently there’s pennyroyal, fennel and all kinds of other good stuff in there. Do try to go out of your way to find a couple for this recipe.
To serve four, you’ll need:
2-3 Bury black puddings
4 large potatoes (I used Kestrel)
3 large banana shallots
4 piquillo peppers
3 tablespoons bacon fat (use good lard if you can’t find any and do some exercise tomorrow)
1 sweet apple
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
5 tablespoons walnut oil
5 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 teaspoon lemon thyme leaves, picked from stems
1 teaspoon honey
A few handfuls salad leaves
Salt and pepper
Chop the potatoes without peeling them into 1½ cm dice, and slice the shallots into rounds. Fry over a medium flame in a large pan using two tablespoons of the bacon fat, turning frequently, until golden (about 20-25 minutes). Ten minutes or so before the potatoes are ready, fry the peeled, halved black puddings in the remaining bacon fat for five minute on each side.
While the potatoes and black pudding are cooking, put the peppers under the grill, turning every few minutes, until the skins are blackened. Put them straight into an airtight plastic box and seal with the lid while you prepare the other ingredients. The steam from the peppers will help to release the skins. Peel the peppers after five minutes in the box, discarding the skins and reserving any juices. Halve them and slice into strips.
Chop the apple into small dice and make up the vinaigrette with the vinegar, honey, walnut and grape oils and any juices from the peppers, with a small pinch of salt. Stir through the apple and thyme and set aside.
When you are ready to put the dish together, stir the peppers into the hot potatoes. Now, normally I abhor the chi-chi “towers of things on a plate” thing, but this is a recipe it suits well. So get out a large pastry cutter to use as a template, and pile the potato mixture onto a plate. Use a sharp knife on a chopping board to dice the black pudding roughly and heap it on top of the potatoes. Top with a handful of salad and spoon the apple dressing over the top. Serve immediately.
I seem to be having a bit of a thing about chorizo at the moment. Blame this never-ending winter – a hot blast of smoke, paprika and garlic is surprisingly uplifting when it’s this steadily grim outside.
This is a great storecupboard dish, and one that goes down very well with kids (if yours don’t tolerate the heat of the paprika, substitute a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. You can also use good ham, preferably home-cooked, in place of the chorizo). This is fatsome and packed with carbs: it’s absolutely not a diet dish. Cook it on a day when you’ve been yomping in the woods or chopping logs. To serve four, you’ll need:
Four large potatoes 1 tablespoon olive oil 75g cream cheese 100g grated cheddar cheese 1 clove garlic, crushed into a paste 2 banana shallots, diced finely 1 tablespoon smoked paprika 1 chorizo ring 1 handful (about 25g) chopped parsley 1 large pinch salt, plus salt to rub on the skins
Preheat the oven to 200°C (450°F). Use your hands to rub the olive oil into the skins of the potatoes, and dredge them with plenty of flaky salt. I used smoked Maldon salt, which marries nicely with the other smoky flavours in this dish. Bake the potatoes for an hour and a half.
While the potatoes are cooking, chop the chorizo into small pieces and fry them in a dry pan until the fat is running. Set aside. Chop and grate the other ingredients.
When the potatoes are ready, slice them in half and, holding the potato in an oven glove, scoop out the flesh into a mixing bowl. You’ll be left with a nice little potato-skin cup. Stir the cheeses (reserving a little cheddar to sprinkle over the top), shallot, garlic, parsley and paprika into the fluffy potato with a large pinch of salt, and when everything is well-mixed, stir in the chorizo and its fat. Pile the mixture back into the potato skins, and top with the reserved cheese.
Return the filled skins to the oven for another 20 minutes, until golden brown on top, and serve piping hot.
Here’s the recipe I promised last week to use up the other half of that curry paste. I particularly like new potatoes in this sort of dry curry; their waxy texture and delicate flavour works very well against the aromatic spicing, and leaving the skins on helps them finish with a nice crisp.
600g new potatoes Half of Friday’s curry paste 1 teaspoon ground turmeric 2 teaspoons fennel seeds Flavourless oil or ghee to fry Salt Fresh coriander to garnish
If you didn’t cook the peas keema, Friday’s curry paste was made with 1 peeled bulb of garlic, 10 spring onions, 1 fat piece of ginger, about 5cm long and 4 green chillies. I used half of it for the peas keema and the other half for this recipe, which makes a fantastic accompaniment for the lamb and peas. If you’re only cooking one of the recipes, either make up a whole batch of curry paste and freeze half, or just halve the amounts.
A few hours before you cook the meal, steam the new potatoes for 25 minutes, drain and leave in the saucepan to cool completely. When cold, chop them in half (or quarters, if yours are large).
When you are ready to start cooking, stir the turmeric into the curry paste. Bring a couple of tablespoons of oil or ghee to temperature in a large, non-stick saucepan over a medium flame, and sauté the whole fennel seeds in the hot oil for a few seconds. Add the curry paste (now bright yellow) and fry, stirring all the time, for a couple of minutes. Tip in the potatoes with a large pinch of salt and keep frying, stirring every now and then, for about 10 minutes until the potatoes are crusty and golden. Serve immediately. These potatoes are also extremely good cold.
There are occasions on which a roast potato will not do. (I’ll admit that these occasions are few.) For those days, these game chips are very easy to make, deliciously crispy, and packed with flavour from crispy garlic, crushed chillies, and plenty of fresh oregano.
I’ve used smoked Maldon salt here. It’s a relatively recent arrival in UK supermarkets (and I actually saw some speciality delis selling it in Lille, which made me smile), and I’ve been using it in place of ordinary salt in a few recipes. It’s very good here, but if you can’t find some just use ordinary flaky salt. If you can find some, you can make an excellent Martini by adding a pinch of the smoked salt with a teaspoon of lavender honey and a sprig of lavender to a couple of shots of iced Grey Goose.
To serve two as a generous accompaniment, you’ll need:
4 good-sized King Edward potatoes 1 large handful (about 20g) oregano 2 large pinches (use all your fingers when you pinch, not just your forefinger) smoked salt 1 teaspoon crushed Italian chillies 4 fat cloves garlic Pepper to taste Olive oil
Pour a generous amount of oil (enough to cover the bottom) into your largest frying pan. Slice the potatoes into eight wedges each. Bring the oil up to a high temperature and lay the potatoes in the pan for about 10-15 minutes, until they are turning gold and crisp. Flip them over and cook them on the other side for another 10-15 minutes.
While the potatoes are cooking, chop the oregano finely and crush the garlic. As always, I’d recommend you use a Microplane grater to deal with the garlic – it’s the fastest, most mess-free way I’ve found to reduce garlic to a pulp, and you won’t get the stringy bits you get with a dedicated garlic crusher.
When the potatoes are crisp and gold on both sides, stir the garlic through them vigorously with a wooden spoon or spatula, until the sticky garlic is distributed properly throughout the pan. Keep moving it around the pan with your spoon until it too is golden – the crispy garlic bits should adhere nicely to your potatoes. Scatter over the chilli, salt and some pepper straight from the grinder, then the oregano. Toss with your wooden spoon and serve immediately. Hopelessly easy, and much nicer than a chip.
I rather like these game chips drizzled with a bit of lemon juice.
In my mental spreadsheet of The Very Best Things You Can Do With A Potato (everyone should have one of these), Pommes Sarladais come in near, if not at, the very top. If you visit the Dordogne region of France, you’ll find these on every menu; in this area where duck and goose farming is so common, and the fat from those birds so ubiquitous in cookery, this preparation of potatoes comes as naturally as breathing.
This is an intensely rich, garlicky recipe. The peeled potatoes are par-boiled, then sautéed in generous amounts of duck or goose fat until golden and crisp. In the last few minutes, pulverised garlic is briskly stirred through the hot fat and crunchy potatoes, and finally the finished dish is tossed with a handful of aromatic, fresh parsley. This is an ideal accompaniment for duck confit, roast chickens, dense and boozy stews – almost anything rich and European. (Insert Silvio Berlusconi joke here.)
Choose a floury potato for this recipe. I like King Edward potatoes here – if you can’t find any, try Desiree, which have a pleasant sweetness that works well against the robust flavour of the garlic. I’m recommending a more generous amount of potato per person than you might expect here, simply because this is so tasty that people do tend to overeat. The semolina dusting doesn’t make it into the standard French recipe, but I gave it a whirl after hearing about the Nigella Lawson semolina trick with English roast potatoes, and found that it raises the golden crispiness to a simply heavenly level around the soft interior of each bite – this dish is the mouth-feel equivalent of about 80 naked, silky angels bopping lewdly to the best bits of ABBA. Admittedly, Pommes Sarladais are full of all those things you’re meant to be avoiding after Christmas like animal fat and carbs, but I’m convinced that the joyful endorphins you’ll produce while munching on them more than make up for that. So to serve four, you’ll need:
1kg King Edward or Desiree potatoes 5 heaping (and I mean heaping) tablespoons duck or goose fat 5 large, juicy cloves garlic 1 large (hand-sized) bunch flat-leaf parsley 1 tablespoon semolina flour Generous amounts of salt
Peel the potatoes, and cut them into squares of about 1 inch. Bring a large pan of water to the boil and drop the potatoes in. Bring back to the boil and simmer for four minutes. While the potatoes are simmering, bring the duck or goose fat to a high temperature in your very largest frying pan. (If you don’t have one large enough to house all the potato chunks in a single layer, split the dish between two pans.)
Drain the potatoes well in a colander, and return them to the saucepan you parboiled them in. Sprinkle over a heaped tablespoon of semolina flour and toss the potatoes well. The semolina should be coating the potato chunks unevenly – tossing the potatoes will have caused their edges to bang up against each other and become craggy and fluffy.
Ladle the semolina-coated potatoes into the hot fat in a single layer. Cook, turning every few minutes, until the potatoes are evenly crisp and gold (about 20 minutes). As you turn, you may feel that the pan is becoming dry – if this is the case, add another tablespoon of duck or goose fat.
While the potatoes are cooking, pulverise the garlic by crushing or grating. When the potatoes are gold, add the garlic to the pan and toss the potatoes around the pan for four minutes to make sure all the garlic cooks and is distributed throughout the whole dish.
Remove the cooked potatoes to a large bowl and toss with the chopped parsley and a generous sprinkling of salt (these can take a lot of salting, which is an excellent excuse to do some tasting as you season). Serve immediately.
Update, Jan 2009: Gordon Brown has just announced that bubble and squeak (or, specifically, rumbledethumps, the Scottish name for the dish) is his favourite meal. I’ve gone right off the stuff.
I mentioned to a group of friends from America that I was planning on cooking bubble and squeak for supper. They all chorused: “What the hell?” One said that the name suggested the boiling of mice. I suspect that this is one of those recipes which needs a short introduction.
Bubble and squeak is a traditional English supper dish made from the leftovers of a roast dinner. It should always contain potatoes and a brassica (I like spring cabbage for its sweetness, but other, more robust cabbages are often used, and some people like – gulp – Brussels sprouts). There is usually some meat – often whatever you roasted the night before, sometimes anointed with a little gravy. The idea is that first the potatoes and cabbage will have been boiled (bubble), and that when packed down hard into a sauté pan, the mixture should squeak.
What I cooked strayed pretty far from tradition – I didn’t used leftover boiled potatoes, but grated some raw ones, rosti-style. I didn’t have any leftovers from a roast, so I used some lovely smoky lardons of bacon and a dollop of beef dripping – a fat you can buy from your butcher in tubs and should always have in your fridge. Along with some sweet cabbage, spring onions and plenty of pepper and nutmeg, you’ve got a panful of fried English goodness fit for the Queen.
To serve four as an accompaniment for some good sausages, you’ll need:
6 medium potatoes 1 sweetheart cabbage 10 large spring onions (scallions) 150g smoked bacon lardons 2 tablespoons beef dripping A generous grating of nutmeg Salt and pepper
A note here – if you’re using leftover boiled potatoes, just mash them roughly into chunky bits with a fork before starting, rather than grating and squeezing them, and reduce the cooking time by five minutes on each side.
Put the lardons in a dry frying pan and cook over a medium temperature, turning occasionally, until golden (about ten minutes). Set aside.
Grate the potatoes. You don’t need to peel them first. The easiest and quickest way to do this is to use the grating blade on your food processor. Take handfuls of the grated potato and squeeze it hard over the kitchen sink. A lot of liquid will be forced out. Put the squeezed potato shreds in your largest mixing bowl and fluff them up with your fingers so they’re not in squeezed blocks any more – this will make mixing the other ingredients with them easier later on.
Shred the cabbage finely (a bread knife is, for some reason, much easier to shred a cabbage with than a cook’s knife). Shred the spring onions finely too. Use your hands to mix the cabbage, spring onions and lardons thoroughly with the potato, adding about a teaspoon of salt, a generous grating of nutmeg and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.
Heat a tablespoon of dripping in a large, non-stick frying pan over a high flame until it begins to shimmer. Pile the bubble and squeak mixture into the pan and use a spatula to push the mixture into a rosti-like patty, packing it down hard into the edges of the pan. Lower the flame to medium/low, and leave to cook for 20 minutes.
When 20 minutes are up, you’ll notice that the vegetables on the top surface of the bubble and squeak are turning translucent. Put a large plate on top of the frying pan and turn the whole arrangement upside-down, so the bubble and squeak turns out neatly onto the plate. Turn the heat back up, add the remaining tablespoon of dripping and, when it is shimmering, slide the bubble and squeak back into the pan, uncooked side down, turn the heat down to low and cook for 20 minutes.
Serve with some good butchers’ sausages and some apple sauce, preferably while wearing a bowler hat or other symbol of Britishness.
They tell me it’s brain food. I remain unconvinced – I am absolutely no better at doing sums than I was before I cooked this, but I am deliciously full and thinking hard about marine biology.
This is a lovely take on fisherman’s pie, a thousand miles away from any variant you may have eaten in the school dining hall. Some of the fish is fresh, some smoked, and this gives it a deep, warm background without overdoing the smoky flavour. Sweet peas and prawns are balanced by a hit of lemon juice and nutmeg, and creamy mash makes a golden lid for the whole thing.
Although this is a fish dish, you’ll find it keeps well overnight in the fridge. This amount made two filling suppers for two greedy people with a sharply dressed green salad. I used frozen haddock fillets here, but you can use any firm, flaky white fish, frozen or fresh.
To serve four, you’ll need:
500g haddock fillets 200g smoked haddock 100g smoked salmon 100g peeled prawns, raw if possible 150g butter 50g plain flour 570ml milk 50g frozen peas 2 eggs 2 teaspoons capers in white wine vinegar Juice of ½ lemon A few gratings of nutmeg 1kg potatoes (choose a floury variety like King Edward) 3 tablespoons double cream Cheddar cheese to sprinkle
Preheat the oven to 200° C (400° F).
Lay the haddock (defrosted if frozen) and smoked haddock in the baking dish you plan to make the pie in – it should have a capacity of between 1.5 and 2 litres. Pour over half the milk and dot with 25g of butter. Season with plenty of pepper and bake for 20 minutes. Pour the liquid from the baking dish into a measuring jug, top up with the remaining milk and reserve. Remove any skin or bones from the cooked fish and flake it into large pieces in the baking dish.
Hard-boil the eggs, and quarter them. Combine them in the baking dish with the flaked fish, drained capers, the frozen peas, the prawns (raw or cooked, but defrosted if frozen) and the smoked salmon. (I used Waitrose’s flakes of hot-smoked salmon – if you can’t find hot-smoked salmon use the regular variety and use scissors to cut it into bite-sized pieces.)
Peel the potatoes and set them to boil as usual for the mashed potato topping. While the potatoes are boiling, melt 75g of the butter in a saucepan. Stir in the flour and cook over a medium-low flame, stirring, for four minutes. Add the milk and fish cooking liquid a little at a time, stirring well after every addition until the sauce thickens. Continue until all the milk mixture is incorporated, and bring to a low simmer until the sauce thickens again. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and stir in the lemon juice and a grating of nutmeg. Pour the sauce over the ingredients in the baking dish.
Mash the potatoes well with the cream, 50g of the butter, another generous grating of nutmeg and plenty of salt and pepper. Spread or pipe the potatoes over the ingredients in the baking dish, and sprinkle with Cheddar cheese.
Bake for 40 minutes, until the cheesy top is a golden brown.
I’ve three Swedish recipes coming up over the next few days, since I’m pretty sure you’re getting sick of my endless riffing on Malaysian and Chinese things-with-rice. I’ve a soft spot for Scandinavian cuisine, which makes a lovely, hearty change when the weather starts to turn towards autumn. Swedish food is characterised by its use of dairy products, fish of all kinds, large game meats like reindeer, and preserved foods. You’ll find relatively few vegetables in Scandinavian cookery; the long winters preclude much that is green and leafy.
This potato dish, flavoured with onions and anchovy (which ends up surprisingly mild and creamy), is a traditional part of the Swedish smorgasbord, a buffet where cold and hot foods are served up in several courses. I was lucky enough to try an authentic smorgasbord in a manor house in rural Lincolnshire (I’ve lived, I tell you) when I was a teenager. The place was run by a Swedish couple, and offered a glorious and fresh spread of cold, cured or smoked fish (no lutefisk as I recall, but if you’re putting your own together, lutefisk would be very appropriate) as an opener. Sliced meats, cheese and a cucumber salad came next, followed by a third, hot course of those ubiquitous meatballs, stewed red cabbage, a venison casserole and a lovely, savoury gratin – Janssons frestelse. The restaurant is long gone now, but visits I’ve made later to Scandinavia have confirmed that what we ate that night was authentic and very well prepared. (The dish pops up in other countries in the region; I’ve eaten it as Janssonin kiusaus in Finland, and very good it was too.)
Although English recipes tend to use anchovies, spiced and preserved sprats (ansjovis in Swedish – you can see where the confusion came about) are usually used in this dish in Sweden. You can’t find these fat, oily little preserved fish for love or money in the UK, so a really good preserved anchovy is your best bet. Sainsbury’s do some absolutely glorious (and rather expensive) large anchovies preserved in oil with chillies in their world food section. These anchovies are very mild (you can eat them unaccompanied with your fingers, and they’re not too salty, just very, very tasty), and work very well here. Otherwise, any good French brand will do. It’s important that your anchovies are good quality ones, which will tend to have a softer, less fierce flavour – I know anchovy-haters who have been converted by this dish.
Stop press – I have been informed by a reader that Swedish ansjovis are, in fact, available at Ikea, of all places. Buy some next time you pop in for some shelving. Their Swedish meatballs are also fantastic.
I chose King Edward potatoes for their flavour and their ability to absorb the cream. This isn’t totally authentic – you’re more likely to find a more waxy potato in this dish in Sweden (I’ve even had it with new potatoes). I personally find that a floury potato works better for my own tastes, but you should feel free to experiment – if you want a waxier potato in the UK, Vivaldi would be excellent, as would Kestrel.
To make Janssons frestelse as a side dish for four to five people, you’ll need:
4 large potatoes (I used King Edwards) 1 large sweet onion 10 anchovies preserved in oil 1 pint double cream ½ pint milk (you may need a little less) 1 handful breadcrumbs 2 tablespoons grated parmesan 2 large tablespoons salted butter
Preheat the oven to 225° C (475° F). Slice the potatoes thinly and make a layer of slices in a fish-scale pattern in a 2 pint gratin dish. (Some recipes call for potatoes cut in matchsticks; others for grated potatoes; others for thin slices. It doesn’t make any difference to the flavour, and you’re likely to find thin slices more manageable.) Slice the onion thinly and place a layer of slices on top of the potatoes, seasoning with pepper as you layer. You won’t need any salt; there is plenty of that in the anchovies. Lay out half the anchovies on top of the onions. Cover with a layer of potatoes, a layer of onions, more anchovies and a final potato layer. Pour over the cream, and sprinkle the top with the breadcrumbs mixed with the (totally inauthentic, so leave if out if you like) parmesan. Dot the surface with softened butter.
Bake in the oven, uncovered, for 30 minutes. The cream will have been absorbed into the potatoes and some will also have evaporated – top the dish up with some milk. Continue to cook for another 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender and the breadcrumbs are crisp.