Hunkering down calls for more pantry-cooking, so in an attempt to use what’s on hand — root vegetables and lots of frozen fish — I recalled holidays in Stockholm and a creamy casserole, Jansson’s Frestelse or “temptation,” that’s essential to the holiday table. It’s made with slightly sweet, canned Swedish sprats, often confused for anchovies, but are more like whitebait. I’ve Alaskanized the dish, using local potatoes and wild salmon, along with a hit of jarred anchovy for depth of flavor.
In an attempt to lighten it up, I tested using half-and-half, which tastes fine, but the sauce curdles slightly. If you want smooth casserole action, go for the cream, and serve with a green salad to cut some of the richness. There aren’t many ingredients in this comfort food dish, so make sure to use the best potatoes — starchy varieties are best for soaking up the cream — and salmon. I like using raw salmon, as it cooks in with the potatoes and cream, but a good-quality smoked salmon or gravlax also fare well. This is pretty basic, but you could always add in a layer of pesto or chili crisp or sautéed mushrooms.
Potato and Salmon ‘Temptation’
Butter, for greasing baking dish
2 pounds potatoes, such as russet or gold (about 6 medium)
Salt and freshly ground black or white pepper, to taste
1 medium yellow or white onion, thinly sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 to 2 1/2 cups heavy cream (or 1 1/2 cups crème fraiche + 1 cup heavy cream)
2 to 3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
2 anchovy fillets, rinsed of oil or salt, minced
1 pound smoked salmon or fresh raw salmon fillet, or pickled salmon, drained of liquid
1/4 cup panko (or homemade or Italian-style) breadcrumbs
Optional: smoked paprika; dried thyme; pesto
Optional garnishes: fresh dill, parsley, or chive; green onions; salmon roe
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter the inside of a 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Peel potatoes and cut into thin slices, stack slices and then cut into matchsticks. Don’t worry about advanced knife skills here, but try to cut potatoes in similar-shaped sizes so they cook evenly. Place matchsticks in a bowl and cover with cold water, add 1 teaspoon salt; set aside. Cut raw salmon into large chunks. If using smoked salmon or gravlax, or pickled salmon, break up into bite-sized pieces.
Drain potatoes and pat thoroughly dry with kitchen towels. Layer one half of potatoes in bottom of greased baking dish. Season lightly with salt (if using salt-forward smoked salmon, omit), pepper, and paprika or other preferred seasoning such as pesto or dried herbs, etc. Top potatoes evenly with sliced onion and salmon. Finish with a top layer of potatoes. Heat cream with crushed garlic and minced anchovies, if using, on stovetop in a small saucepan or in a microwave-proof container and heat until just warm. Pour garlic-cream-anchovy mixture over potatoes and salmon. If two cups cream aren’t enough, add up to 1/2 cup more cream; the potatoes should be almost covered with liquid but not completely. If desired, top with breadcrumbs.
Cover baking dish with foil and place dish on a sheet pan so the liquid doesn’t bubble over in your oven. Bake for 35 minutes. Uncover and bake another 30 to 35 minutes or until top is golden and bubbling and potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife tip. Let cool 10 minutes before serving. Top with fresh herbs, green onion, or salmon roe, if desired. Serve with a green salad.