Around the world in 14 dinners Sweden - Jansson's Temptation another man's torture


Jansson's Temptation - authentic Swedish potato, onion and anchovy gratin

This traditional Swedish dish Janssons Frestelse or Jansson's Temptation is very popular in Finland and is a common childhood nightmare food, a bit like cabbage rolls or dill beef (yes, there is such a thing unfortunately). Acquired taste, I suppose. The word temptation in Finnish can also mean maltreatment or torment, as kids we always thought that was what the name meant and thought it was very appropriate.

I of course grew to like it eventually. I hadn't had it for a long time so didn't really remember how utterly delicious it is. But utterly delicious it is. I confirmed before I set off that husband likes anchovies, because it's a bit of a basic requirement in case of Jansson's temptation. Like with Borscht, it helps if you like beetroot.

I thought he did, and he confirmed that indeed he does like anchovies. He used to have them on pizzas on his younger days, so I dared go ahead with the dish.

It's interesting that he often nowadays refers to his careless and free single days. I wonder if it is the current omnipresence of the wife that has brought on this reminiscing. Or just the fact that we are not very free to do anything at the moment.

Even at almost two months of lockdown he doesn't seem to mind my company though. Although he did throw the bedspread at me the other night because allegedly I was snoring. I find it extremely unlikely since I am a lady.

Jansson's Temptation, Janssons frestelse, janssoninkiusaus - Swedish potato, onion and anchovy gratin

I decided to do the Temptation more as a side dish to some nice oven baked sea bass rather that a main which is how it is meant to be eaten. Often Jansson's Temptation is cooked as a little salty late night party food since due to it's saltiness it goes well with drink.

One story of it's origins says it was invented by a Swedish opera singer, bass-baritone Per "Pelle" Janzon, a son of a fisherman who before his singing studies went to sea himself for a while and then returned onshore to study philosophy. And singing. He ended up in the Royal Opera in Stockholm towards the end of the nineteenth century and became one of the best-loved stars of the opera particularly excelling in comedy roles. It is said his singing technique wasn't particularly refined. He liked good food and also maybe a bit of a party, because the story goes that after the performance he would often invite friends over for drinks and some potato and anchovy gratin.

The other possible theory about the origins of this dish names a controversial communist priest who fled the country with his little Christian cult following to Illinois, US, but this story is too serious, so I'll go with Pelle, who sounds like a fun guy.

It doesn't need to be late night, this dish can be eaten any time of the day and it's often served with pickle beetroot. I decided to give the pickled beetroot a miss. And the Swedes apparently also might have this in their Christmas Eve dinner buffet.

Jansson's Temptation, classic Swedish potato, onion and anchovy gratin and baked sea bass

The anchovy used in Scandinavia for this dish is actually sprat rather that real anchovy. You can find these tins in Amazon, Ocado or specialist online shops like Scandikitchen. Just google "Anchovy style sprat fillets". Using normal anchovies might work, but they are even saltier, so I would at least maybe rinse off some of the salt and be a bit careful with the liquid. For authentic Janssons frestelse though, I would recommend finding the sprats.

The below recipe is translated from a classic Swedish recipe, they are all fundamentally the same. Some versions only use cream and no milk. Some recipes have a higher sprat to potato ratio, but otherwise there seems to be a lot of consensus. This is Sweden after all.

Jansson's Temptation, classic Swedish potato, onion and anchovy gratin

Jansson's Temptation - Classic Swedish potato, onion and anchovy gratin

(serves 4)
1 yellow onion
2-3 tbsp butter
8 medium potatoes (about 700g)
1 tin (125g) of anchovy-style sprat fillets
200 ml cream
100 ml milk
1-2 tbsp breadcrumbs
black pepper

Preheat oven to 200C.

Peel onion and slice thinly. I used my mandolin. Heat a knob of butter in a frying pan, add the onion in the pan and soften for a few minutes on low to medium heat. Don't let the onion brown. 

Peel the potatoes and cut into thin julienne strips. Butter an oven dish. Layer half of the potatoes in the oven dish. Add the onions on top and then layer the anchovies, keep the liquid. Add a couple of grinds of black pepper and then layer on the rest of the potatoes finishing with some black pepper. 

Mix cream and milk and add in some of the liquid from the anchovy-tin. I added all of it in the end, but worth adding some first then giving the mixture a taste to make sure it doesn't get too salty. The cream mixture should have a good amount of salt from the anchovy-liquid though, because there is no other added salt in the recipe. 

Pour the cream mixture over the dish. Sprinkle on a handful of breadcrumbs and add a few knobs of butter in top. 

Bake in the lower half of the oven for 45-50 minutes until the potatoes are soft. Cover with a piece of foil if it looks like it's getting too much colour. 

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