Saturday, 5 April 2014

On the difference between Scandinavian and non-Scandinavian anchovies

Yes, of course it was a stylistic choice to photograph the dish
 after part of it was removed. It's not like I was eating a serving
 of it and suddenly realised I had forgotten to take a photo...
Not at all, I assure you.
The other day I got a big parcel from the homeland. My Mum sent me some beautiful Finnish design glasses and some Finnish delicacies, like cloudberry jam and Dominos (Finnish Oreos, and they are much better than Oreos by the way). Along with all of the other goodies, she also sent over a few Pirkka magazines. It's the monthly magazine for one of the big grocery store chains, and it always has great recipes for easy, everyday meals. Think along the lines of the free magazines you can pick up in Tesco. So I was browsing through the magazine (ok, to be honest I pretty much read every single word of it, including the advertisements) and was reminded of this great and simple dish I haven't made in ages. 

The name Janssonin kiusaus (Finnish) means Jansson's temptation. Apparently Jansson might have been a Swedish opera singer who lived in the late 19th century, or alternatively the name might have come from a movie called Janssons frestelse (which is the Swedish name for the dish) from 1928. I also learned, when I looked up this dish on Wikipedia, that it is originally made from sprats (I had no idea what sprats were, I had to Wikipedia that too, and it's a small fish). Apparently, the Swedish word for sprats pickled in sugar and spices is anjovis, which has lead to confusion when the recipe has been translated. The thing called anchovies in English is called sardell in Swedish. I'm amazed at all these things you learn when you have to research things you thought you knew.

Anyhow, this whole thing of sprats versus anchovies explained why the things I bought over here called anchovies tasted different from what I thought were anchovies back home. Apparently I have been eating sprats all the time and thinking they are anchovies. And Mum, since you are going to ask anyway, sprats are kilohaili in Finnish and skarpsill in Swedish. It's picked in spices including cinnamon, black pepper, bay leaf, cloves, oregano, cardamom, allspice and sandalwood. So no wonder it just didn't taste quite right when I used UK anchovies.

One thing I do know for a fact is that Janssonin kiusaus is usually served as night food. You know, the type of thing which is served way past midnight when the party is at it's best and everyone is drunk and need something really salty and flavourful to soak up the alcohol. I have often seen it served at New Year's parties, or at weddings which have gone on into the wee hours. But it makes a great lunch or dinner, and above all, it is both super easy to make and really cheap as well. And obviously it scales really easily to serve more people.

Janssonin kiusaus (serves 4):
5-6 potatoes
1 big onion
1 tin of pickled sprats or alternatively anchovies if you don't happen to be in Finland or Sweden (mine was about 120g including the oil)
1.5 dl single cream
1.5 dl milk
black pepper

The howto:
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Chop the onion and cut the potatoes into thin strips (first cut into slices, and then into strips). Mix the onions and potatoes, and layer half of them in an oven proof dish. Layer the sprats (or anchovies) next, and cover with the rest of the potato and onion mixture. Mix the brine/oil from the sprats/anchovies with the cream, milk and pepper and pour over the potatoes. Cook in the oven for about 50-60 minutes, until the potatoes have softened. 

The verdict:
One thing I have learned today is that not all anchovies are created equal. The Finnish/Swedish variety, which isn't even anchovies in the first place, is much tastier than regular anchovies. However, you shouldn't let that keep you from trying out this dish. It has a bit of the right flavour, it's not just as intensive as it would be if it was made from the right stuff. It's still a nice hearty meal. And most of us should include more fish in our diet, and this is a great way to include a fish you don't usually eat (at least I assume most people don't regularly eat anchovies, but please correct me if I'm wrong). And last but not least, Mum could you send over a few tins of Finnish anchovies the next time you are sending over a parcel so I can make the dish properly. Thanks!

1 comment:

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