For over ten years now, thanks to my husband's family, I've enjoyed a good ol' Swedish smörgåsbord every Christmas. Everyone has their special dish that they bring to the dinner table (korv, pottatis korv, limpa, kaldormer, etc.), and it's all finished off with the hovdessert, a Swenglish dish composed of scoops of ice cream, meringues, nuts and hot fudge.
It all seems terribly fancy, all these special dishes made for this special occasion. But what are these dishes, really? Potato sausage? A ricey meatball wrapped in cabbage? A casserole made of onions, potatoes and fish? These are not high society Swedish dishes. This is nineteenth century working class Swedish food. We're celebrating our Swedish American immigrant roots with this simple food as we're gathered 'round the Christmas table wearing our finest. It's a little ironic, perhaps, but it is still delicious.
For you, dear reader, on my Julfest day, I share with you my own take on Janssons frestelse, or Jansson's temptation. It's mostly onions, potatoes, cream and fish, and it smells up the house so, but I love it anyway. I hope you will, too.
Jansson’s Temptation (Janssons frestelse) with fennel
Traditional, but altered a bit here by Rebecca Nelson
If you’re handy with a mandoline, your onion and fennel slicing will be a breeze. The fennel flavor here is quite subtle, but if you’re really not a fan, simply substitute back in one more onion. But don’t you dare remove those Swedish anchovies. In fact, if you want to get into the true spirit of the dish, you will buy two tins of the anchovies and layer the little guys on top of the onion layers (still ending with potatoes). Be SURE to get Swedish anchovies, which are cured much differently from the usual suspects (and not actual anchovies at all, but sprats). They can be found at both Scandinavian Specialties and IKEA, in their respective refrigerated food sections.
- 2¼ lbs (1 kilo) Yukon Gold potatoes
- 2 large yellow onions, halved and sliced thinly
- 2 fennel bulbs, stems removed, halved, cored, and sliced thinly
- 2 tablespoons butter (plus more for greasing the baking dish and dotting the top)
- 1 tin (3½ oz) Swedish-style anchovy filets and brine
- 1 ⅔ cups heavy whipping cream
- white pepper
- 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
Preheat oven to 400˚F. Generously grease a 1½ to 2 quart baking dish with butter, and set aside. Skin the potatoes, then cut them into strips about 2 inches long and ¼-inch square. Set aside.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced fennel and onions, and sauté until soft, but not brown (10-12 minutes).
Make a layer of potato strips on the bottom of the baking dish, and cover with half the fennel/onion mixture. Sprinkle white pepper evenly across the top of the onion layer, then repeat the layering, ending with potatoes. Press down slightly on the top layer, to even out the surface.
Begin heating the cream and the entire contents of your tin of Swedish anchovies in a small saucepan. Slowly bring the mixture up to a slight simmer (the anchovies should fall apart and meld with the cream; you can also use a whisk to help this process along).
Pour the heated cream/anchovy mixture slowly over the potatoes until the cream reaches nearly to the top of the top potato layer. Sprinkle breadcrumbs over the top and dot with butter. Place the baking dish on a jellyroll pan (or another baking tray with an edge around it), cover loosely with foil, and bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 30 minutes more (or until the potatoes are tender).