The Story

Are Those Anchovies in your Potatoes?

By Lindsay Sterling

My neighbor in Freeport, Maine, handed me the phone number of a Swedish yacht-chef he knew from his job at the boatyard. “Monica’s great,” he said, “Maybe she’ll teach you how to cook something for your column!” Indeed, a couple days later Monica Eriksson arrived at my house enthusiastic about showing me how to cook a favorite dish from home.
She is from Kungsbacka, a small town on the West coast of Sweden that is a lot like Freeport, with pine trees, summer guests, and a lot of islands. It’s also really cold for much of the year, which is why she says people from Sweden like to travel so much. She herself worked as a flight attendant based in Spain for 17 years, flying in and out of Africa, Majorca, and the Canary Islands. When she moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, she brought all her cookbooks with her. “When I wanted to relax, I cooked. It was therapeutic. It was fun to do different and new things. It’s fun to watch chefs on TV make things that don’t always turn out right. It’s okay to make mistakes.”
She found work as a yacht stewardess and sailed from Isla Magarita (off the coast of Venezuela) to other islands in the Caribbean. As a deck hand, she sailed to the Galápagos Islands, Chile, and the Panama Canal. At one point, the crew was missing a cook. She stepped in and so began her career as a yacht chef, throwing fancy dinner, breakfast, and lunch parties for days and weeks on end.
Her favorite dish from Sweden was a potato casserole known as “Temptation of Jansson.” To make it, she cut up peeled potatoes like she was making French fries, layered them in a casserole dish with buttery sautéed onions, anchovies, cream and breadcrumbs, and baked it for 45 minutes. The dish is often served as part of a traditional Swedish smörgåsbord, a table filled with a array of specific foods including: three types of herring, gravlax (salmon cured in salt, sugar, and dill), rye and whole grain bread, butter, a wheel of cheese, sausages, sliced cold cuts, hardboiled eggs with caviar, Swedish meatballs, pork ribs, pickled cucumbers, and pickled beets.
Swedish food, she admits, does tend to be on the heavy side because of the cold climate. Her international traveling has lead to a lighter style of everyday cooking. She likes a good fresh kale salad with raisins, nuts, oil and vinegar, but at the same time she is absolutely effervescent with fondness for Swedish food. She recalled home-foraged chanterelle mushroom toasts, lingonberry preserve with potato and meat dumplings, pyttipanna (chopped potatoes and beef with eggs and pickled beets), ginger bread, saffron buns, cardamom cake, and during the holidays: Vinglögg (wine mulled with orange rind, cinnamon, clove and cardamom).
The potato dish, Temptation of Jansson, is a great new twist on mashed or scalloped potatoes that will come in handy this winter. I’m going to serve it next with poached salmon and her kale salad. Ever traveling, Monica hopes to retire one day in Ecuador so she can shop at a fresh food market every day. I hope to see her there sometime.

Simply Scandinavian (19 Temple St, Portland, Maine M-Sat 10-6pm, 207-874-6768 or 888-534-9712) is receiving a new shipment of imported foods in the coming weeks. Monica suggests: “The salt fish roe paste on hardboiled eggs is excellent. Kalles caviar is the best brand.”

copyright Lindsay Sterling 2014