Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Smorgasbord Eve

Which means it's time to cook!

Jansson's Temptation

One of my all-time favorite dishes ever. If I were on Death Row, this would be my last meal request and I'd want to be the one to make it.

When I was growing up, our wimmen-folk belonged to the Linneas of Texas, a club for Swedish women and those who were fortunate enough to be married to Swedish men and wanted to get in on the action. Once a year, they hosted a Smorgasbord in Houston as a fund-raiser and we all helped out in the preparations and at the actual dinner. It was really a Brunch, in my memory and I think they held it on a Sunday after church. I just remember it was mostly elderly couples dressed nicely and very polite. I would wander around serving coffee and iced tea.

The week BEFORE was spent in preparations and here is where I really come in. I was in charge of peeling and slicing mountains of potatoes. At the time, I did this job exceedingly well, because I owned it. Now I realize others must have thought me really slow-witted because who in the clear mind would DO that for hours. We made VATS of the stuff! This means one whole heck-of-a-lot of potatoes. But I loved it. I loved being a part of this.

So, with no further ado (well.... maybe a few side-tracks), please follow me down memory lane. If you make this dish, you will thank me.

First take 3 medium-large yellow onions, peel the outer skin. cut in half and slice into slender semi-circles. You don't want to chop or mince these onions. In a large skillet, melt 3 Tablespoons of real butter, I use unsalted, on a low heat. This is going to take time, so don't rush it. In Louisiana, we call this sweating the onions. Cook them slowly, so slowly because you don't want that heat to burn the butter! The onions take a while to wilt but then start to take on a beautiful golden color and become transluscent. Eventually they will start to brownish. At this point you take them off the heat. They are just shy of carmelized, got it?

Now while all that is going on and you keep your eye on it! you can start with the potatoes. I use the Idahos that come in 5 lb bags. Not the HUGE baking size and not too small because you'll be peeling forever. For this batch, I used 8 large potatoes, peeled. Now quarter them and slice the first quarter very finely in one direction and turn that on it's side and slice them into slender shoestrings. Repeat with the other 3 quarters and then repeat with the other 7 potatoes.

Hate me yet?

As you do this slicing, dump them into a large pot of cold water. You want them to stay covered at all times. You may notice the water turn pinkish. Sometimes this happens. No worries. Now after you finish all the potatoes, rinse off the water and cover them again.

If you live in a city with an IKEA (lucky duck) you can get these anchovies: ABBAs.

If you have friends who love you and live near an IKEA, you can ask them to get you some. If both these options are out of the question, you can do what I have done for years, use Moroccan or Portugese anchovies. Buy Reese's Anchovy Fillets. Now, any self-respecting Swede would say this doesn't taste as good and they may be right but hey, I'm a hick and I'll take what I can get if it means Jansson's Temptation.

(Aside: When we moved to Brunei our second year abroad, I said, let's meet the neighbors and have a Smorsgasbord! And off I went in search of ingredients to make as close as possible a Swedish Christmas. John came home for lunch to find me in tears, trying desperately to fillet anchovies. I had never seen any other tin but ABBAs anchovies so when opened the tin from China and found they had bones, I set about filleting fish the size of little pinkies. I was in misery. I learned YEARS later that anchovy fillets still had bones and were totally edible. Who knew?)

Okay, you have your potatoes, sauted onions and anchovies. DON'T throw out the broth! Even if it's anchovies packed in oil (the ABBAs anchovies are packed in broth, not oil. BETTER!!!!) You'll need it later. How much anchovies? Well if you LOVE them, use three cans. Since I am making this for a crowd who may not be wild about anchovies, but curious, I have limited it to 2 tins of ABBAs. (that would be 3 tins of Reese's)

In a buttered casserole (I use a 5 quart Corningware square) begin layering first with potatoes, then a smattering of onions, then 4 or 5 anchovy fillets, Sprinkle a little pepper and (if you must) a tiny tiny amount of salt or NONE at all.

Remember anchovies are salty and you don't want to be eating mouthfuls of ocean. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. These are really thin layers. End with a layer of potatoes. remember the broth? Pour that broth over the layers, all of it. If you uses oil-packed anchovies, use ONLY one tin's worth. Too oily otherwise.

Sprinkle with pepper. Have you resisted using salt? GOOD! Now you may sprinkle the tiniest amount, really... just a smininch*. Trust me! Later you if MUST, you can add to your helping but some of us can't take a lot of salt.

Now if I were a REAL Swede, I would use only heavy cream.

But I use both heavy cream and Half and Half. Half and Half and Half. Drizzle the cream over the potatoes, only to the point that you begin to see it rise up the edge of the casserole.

You don't want much more than about half the casserole because as the potatoes cook and soften, they will settle down and the cream will rise. You aren't making a soup. That cream will thicken and you will end up with a creamy, rich sauce.

Cover the dish and bake at 350 degrees for an hour or so. Check it and see what I mean about settling 30 minutes into the baking. If you think you need more cream, you can add it now. If you are going to serve it now, uncover the dish and allow the potatoes to brown. However!

This really benefits from making a day ahead and resting refrigerated and reheated. The cream thickens and when it's served, is stayed more together. But I confess, I have a very difficult time waiting 24 hours. In this case, I have no choice. I'm bringing it to the Smorgasbord tomorrow.

So when I reheat it, it will brown at that time. Heat it covered thoroughly and remove the cover before serving to allow it brown. This way, you never have to worry about burning it!

Okay now I am off to bake the Limpa!

*what's a smininch? More than a pinch, less than a smidge.

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