Throwback Thursday Battle of the Gratins

Merry Christmas readers! The posting has been sparse this year and I don’t think I can promise lots of improvement with Nerdcuisine jr entering her second year in life rather soon.

When I started this post it was still Thursday so it counts. It’s a post I’ve been meaning to do for a whole year. It’s like this you see; last year mrs Nerdcuisine’s water broke on December 22nd. No baby came though, so we had to go in for check-ups the following three mornings. On the morning of Christmas Eve we decided to get some work done before having to go to the hospital, so we prepared some Christmas gratins. A classic Swedish one and a probably even more classic Finnish one. I usually have lot of photos in my posts, but this session was done very early in the morning, so most of the pics were mostly pointless. We’ll have to make do with just the finished products.

Gratin 1: Janssons Frestelse
Janssons frestelse (en: Jansson’s temptation) is a gratin of julienned potatoes, onions and cream, flavored with ‘anchovies’, which is, for some reason, a trade name for pickled sprats seasoned in a specific way. There are a few explanations for the name. The one I’m going with claims that an opera singer named Janzon often served the dish at his afterparties in the late 19th century. It’s been an important part of smorgasbords and late night snacks for a long time.

It’s also easy to make. Layer matchstick-cut potatoes, onion slices and ‘anchovies’ in a suitable vessel. season with salt and pepper. Smother the whole thing in double cream mixed with the brine from the anchovies tin and cover with breadcrumbs. Cook for an hour in 200 degrees C. Some people use machinery or graters for the potatoes these days (I’ve even encountered a TV chef using frozen french fries) but I consider the hand-cutting a point of honour.

Gratin 2: Lanttulaatikko
Lanttulaatikko (en: Turnip box) is a traditional Finnish Christmas dish. Since the main ingredient is mashed swede it’s a bit more like a pudding than a gratin perhaps, but Christmas is no time to be picky. The mashed swede is mixed with treacle, breadcrumbs, eggs and cream, seasoned with white pepper, ginger and nutmeg, plopped in a dish and generously sprinkled with breadcrumbs and baked at 175 degrees or so for 2-4 hours.

To ensure a nice crust on both varieties we usually put a generous helping of butter on top. Some people are content with a few dollops, but I like to slice most of a stick of butter with a cheese cutter and arrange the slices in a nice tile pattern.

These two dishes have several ingredients in common but are very different in most other aspects. One is a standalone dish or part of a buffet, the other more of a side order. And thus ends the battle of the Christmas gratins, Sweden vs. Finland. It’s probably a draw. I had a sceptical attitude towards Jansson’s well into my twenties but after being assigned to make it for student association Christmas parties I warmed to it and it is now my favourite Christmas food, along with pickled herring. My first encounter with lanttulaatikko was an anecdote dad brought home from a work-related Christmas party in Finland in the 90s. It has since entered the list of must-haves by way of my wife’s Finnish ancestry. I like it not only for flavor, but also because it’s an excuse not to boil any potatoes, since I consider eating potatoes at Christmas a waste of stomach room.

lådor
Lanttulaatikko on the left, Janssons frestelse on the right.

That’s what we did the morning of December 24th (which is the day for Christmas celebration in Sweden). Terribly early on the morning of Christmas Day we went to the hospital again, this time to induce labor. About 48 hours and a C-section later, NC jr was safe in my arms and stuff like blogs pushed down several notches on the priority list.

Merry Christmas and other holidays again dear readers. Hopefully I can squeeze another post in before the year ends. There seem to be a lot of grandmothers around this time of year…

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