What constitutes an irresistible temptation depends a lot on how a potentially tempted person was raised. A person that grew up on an American diet would likely not be moved by Jansson’s frestelse (“Jansson’s temptation,” recipe follows), a Swedish specialty of potato sticks baked in anchovies, onions, and cream, but to a Swede the lure is innate.
More Swedish dishes on The World Cup of Food:
- Köttbullar, Swedish meatballs
With a name like Jansson’s temptation, one would figure that a very clearly-defined story would describe the dish’s origins. Alas, much like other dishes with distincive names such as General Tso’s chicken, Cobb salad, or Buffalo wings, the exact story remains murky. In Dale Brown’s Foods of the World: Cooking of Scandinavia, the tale is told of one Erik Janson, a “19th Century Swedish religious zealot and self-appointed prophet” (or as we like to call it, “19th Century Swedish cult leader”). Janson opposed any pleasure of the flesh (again, for a Swede, consumption of potatoes and anchovies constitutes earthly pleasure). When faced with a potato and anchovy casserole, though, Janson succumbed to his temptation, witnessed by a few of his disciples. Brown is quick to point out that the different spelling of the name might mean that this story is apocryphal. Another account is that the dish is named for a popular 1928 silent film of the same name, but there are some key steps missing, like why a person named a potato casserole after a movie (we create our own recipes all the time but never has it occurred to us to name one of them “Jurassic Park” or “Weekend at Bernie’s”). In the end, the etymology of Jansson’s frestelse remains a research project for another day.
Jansson’s Frestelse (Jansson’s Temptation)
adapted from Foods of the World: Cooking of Scandinavia by Dale Brown
SERVES 4 TO 20, DEPENDING ON WILLINGNESS TO DEVOUR ANCHOVIES
- 4 large Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into French fry-sized sticks
- 4 Tbs butter, divided, plus a little more to grease the baking pan
- 3 medium yellow onions, sliced
- 1 can anchovies, drained
- 1 cup bread crumbs
- 1 pint half-and-half
- 1/2 cup milk
First we heated one of our trusty cast-iron skillets over medium-low heat. Once the handle was hot to the touch we melted two tablespoons of the butter and added the onion slices:
While the onions cooked we prepped the potatoes and covered them with water, both to prevent oxidation from discoloring them and to wash away a little of the excess starch:
Also while the onions were cooking, we melted the other two tablespoons of butter in another trusty cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat and toasted the breadcrumbs slightly, stirring frequently to prevent overbrowning and to ensure that the butter coated them evenly:
The bread crumbs were taken off the heat and scooped into a bowl to prevent further cooking from the residual heat of the skillet.
After about eight minutes of cooking the onions were softened and only barely beginning to brown:
The onion pan was removed from the heat and set aside until needed.
Next, the potatoes were drained and patted dry with paper towels. We first tried to use our salad spinner for the job, but it quickly became apparent that the plastic gearing of the spinner mechanism was no match for the potatoes’ extra weight.
To assemble the casserole, we first greased our nine-by-thirteen baking dish with a little butter, then arranged about half the potatoes over the bottom, aligned more or less in the same direction:
On top of that went the onions:
…then (the moment for which you’ve all been waiting) the anchovies:
…and the rest of the potatoes, again aligned in approximately the same direction:
The cream and milk were poured over the top of everything:
…then the casserole was finished with a sprinkling of bread crumbs. Our frestelse went into a four hundred degree Fahrenheit oven for one hour until the potatoes were tender:
We would make a few changes to Brown’s recipe, namely par-boiling the potatoes first and skipping the pre-toasting of the bread crumbs (they came out a little darker than we’d like but were fine). The dish itself was a measured success. We were surprised at how fishy yet balanced the dish was, with the onion flavor and fatty cream taking some of the edge off the anchovies. Don’t get us wrong, we love cooking with anchovies, but we feared that this dish would be too anchovy-forward to enjoy, and we were wrong. Jansson’s frestelse leftovers made for an interesting lunch/conversation piece the next day at work.