Rigby’s Encyclopaedia of the Herring

A work in progress with no end in sight

JANSSON’S TEMPTATION

A description of this Swedish dish; consideration of when he was actually tempted and how this might impact on the authenticity of some recipes

JANSSON’S TEMPTATION

The first time I ate Jansson’s Temptation (Jansson’s Frestelse), it was specifically introduced to me as a recipe for the sweet, small Baltic herring by a friend and colleague, the Finnish photographer Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen. They came in a large glass jar and had been brought back from Finland.

Researching this entry, a lot of the recipes say it should be made with Swedish tinned sprats. Some say anchovies but only through a mistranslation of the Swedish ansjovis.

Some recipes helpfully suggest you can get ansjovis in Ikea. I always get in a bad mood at Ikea. Especially when they don’t have any bloody tins of ansjovis anyway.

But I also think Jansson was tempted before the C19th development of canned fish. The availability of bacon, cheese or herring, those magic salty ingredients that bring potatoes, cream and onions to their full glory, preceded the industrial age.

When making it recently I instead cut up some lightly salted Atlantic herring fillets, preserved in oil and available from all good Lithuanian grocers. Authentic or not, they worked. If there’s a Jewish Deli nearby, schmaltz herring would too. Unlike Ikea, these are kind of places which make me happy.

This recipe comes from ScandiKitchen, but it is something you can play around with.

   700g potatoes – King Edwards or a similar ‘fluffy’ variety

   25g butter

   125g sprats or small herrings pickled in brine

   200g onion, finely sliced

   salt

   black pepper

   300ml double cream

   300ml whole milk

   2 tbsp dried breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 200 C. Chop peeled potatoes into 0.5cm sticks and bake them for 20 mins. Melt the butter in a pan and add the onion, cooking until soft (but not brown).

Add the potatoes to the onion mixture. In an ovenproof dish, layer half the potato and onions, then half the herring, season with salt an pepper, then add half the milk and cream. Repeat, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and bake for 45 mins.

Herring (or sprat) oils probably work to prevent any cream-induced heart attack, but temptation is temptation. I’d finished the dish I made before I even thought of photographing it.