Several years ago, when I was first discovering the cooking blogosphere, I came across a recipe for Hasselback Potatoes.
I mean, this looks really cool. It’s like having crispy potato chips in baked potato form. This is totally worth looking into!
So I did a little research to learn more about these potatoes, and I discovered 3 things.
- The dish originated in Sweden, which raised all sorts of red flags. Any cuisine that boasts of fermented fish as one of its staples should have its legitimacy questioned.
- Swedish meatballs I guess are ok, well not really. I still have painful memories of going to some fancy reception as a kid, and my parents tried to appease me by saying, look they have meatballs. So I had one, because spaghetti and meatballs are great, and then I asked why they left these out in the sun for three days to spoil. So, no, they suck too.
- The dish has nothing to do with Matt Hasselbeck, former NFL quarterback and current ESPN talking head, who made perhaps the most boneheaded declaration in playoff history, when he said they were going to take the ball and score, only for him to throw a sadly weak pass that Al Harris returned for a touchdown.
(On a tangent, but every time I hear Al Harris’s name, it reminds me of an episode of Dinosaurs, where one of Earl’s coworkers, Al “Sexual” Harris, was notorious for making sexual innuendo comments couched in a normal statement, and then they would all scream “TWO MEANINGS”, as if he’d discovered some sort of loophole to say dirty things without saying dirty things. Because yeah, that’s always a good idea.)
- The dish requires you to slice almost all the way through the potato, but stop just short of the bottom. Now this should be obvious given how the dish looks, but of course it didn’t occur to me until I decided to give it a shot. Which I knew there was no way I’d be able to make any sort of uniform cut across the potato, so this was a no-go.
(Of course, years later I would see that people found a hack where you can lay a chopstick on either side of the potato, and it will stop the knife just short of the bottom. Which would have been helpful, because my old neighborhood was overrun with Chopsticks ‘R’ Us franchises at the time.)
Then a few years ago, I was looking through the bible (otherwise known as The Food Lab, written by our lord and savior J. Kenji Lopez-Alt), and saw that he had a recipe for Hassleback Potato Casserole. And no slicing almost to the bottom, this was a full-on cut through the potato, so this had real potential.
This is basically a potato gratin, but with the potato slices vertical instead of horizontal. Why does this matter?
You see all those crispy bits at the top of the potatoes? That’s from them sticking up by themselves and getting a little burned, as well as being covered in a not insignificant amount of cheese. You don’t get that from a regular potato gratin (which is plenty delicious on its own, no shade here).
(Do the kids still say shade? Or is that mid now? Don’t put me on fleek!)
I won’t lie, this is a pretty involved recipe. It’s not impossible, but it takes a lot of time and patience.
Let’s talk cooking vessels first. The recipe calls for a 2 quart baking dish, which sounds lovely except that measuring quarts includes depth, which doesn’t make a difference in this recipe. You should be much more focused on surface area (don’t you wish you paid attention in high school geometry now). I made mine in a 8×8 dish that was a little over 2 inches deep, and for that it took almost 5 pounds of potatoes. Prepare accordingly.
There’s two major components to this dish: the potatoes and the cream sauce.
First let’s hit the cream sauce. This isn’t super complicated, except for the cheese. No pre-shredded cheese, you’re going to have to do your own shredding here. It’ll be worth it, and you’ll be amazed how far just a few ounces of cheese will go.
Most grocery stores will have a specialty cheese area, and you should be able to find small blocks of Parmesan and Gruyere cheese. If you can’t find Gruyere, Swiss would be an ok substitute.
When you’re buying your potatoes, you want to look for ones that are longer and thinner, as opposed to shorter and thicker ones.
The reason you want to do this is because you’re going to want to pack the potato slices as tightly as possible, so the more length you have,
the fewer potatoes you’re going to need. Heck, if you want to get all mathematical on me, you could actually measure the potatoes by length instead of weight to figure out how many you’re going to need. Because it’s not at all weird to bring a tape measure to the grocery store, but you do you.
(Err on the side of too many potatoes. You can always bake the leftovers, but it’ll be a pain if you come up one potato short and have to go get more.)
Once you get your super long potatoes (did I mention that my 5 pounds came from just 3 1/2 potatoes? That’s not weird at all, right?), you’ll need to peel them (don’t get lazy on this step, it will make a difference if you don’t peel them), and then slice them as thinly as you can.
If you’ve got a mandolin slicer, you’re set, just set the blade to 1/8″ and go to town.
If you’re accident prone like me, don’t even think about getting one of those, at least without first programming directions to the nearest ER into your GPS. You don’t need to get them all exactly 1/8″ thick, some will be thinner/thicker than others. As long as you don’t have any like 1/2″ thick, you’ll be fine.
Now that you have your potatoes and whatever parts of your finger that might have gotten caught in the mandolin sliced, you’ll want to submerge the slices in the cream mixture.
But not all at once. Oh no, you didn’t think it was going to be that easy, did you? No, you need to make sure that every single slice is coated in the cream mixture. Drenched? No. Coated? Yes. Whether it works better for you to go one slice at a time, or putting in a handful and separating them in the cream, it’s your call. You don’t want dry potatoes that are going to stick together and create a lump of sadness.
Once you have a goodly amount of potatoes in the cream (I can’t tell you how many is a goodly amount, you’ll just know), you’ll want to pull them out and start placing them in your baking dish. I prefer shaking off a little of the excess cream before I put them in the dish, but it doesn’t really matter since any excess is going to fall to the bottom of the dish anyways.
As you’re putting them into the dish, keep them even and tight. You want the slices to be packed in as tightly as possible.
This will take a while – it took me about 30 minutes to go through the entire peel/dunk/assemble process. But when it’s done, it’ll be a thing of beauty. Then you get to pour the remainder of the cream mixture over top of the potatoes. The recipe says you only need to pour it halfway up the potatoes, but I went a little overboard and went almost to the top of the pan and they came out fantastically.
When you put the dish in the oven, make sure that you place a sheet pan underneath it. The cream could boil over a little bit, and it will be messy if it hits the bottom of the oven.
It’s going to take a while for the potatoes to cook. They’ll go 30 minutes covered, then 30 minutes uncovered, then you’ll sprinkle the cheese that didn’t go into the cream mixture on top of the potatoes for the last 30 minutes.
When they’re done, let them sit for maybe 10 minutes or so to let the cream cool down. You’ve spent a lot of time putting together this masterpiece, the last thing you want to do is scald the roof of your mouth eating it too quickly.
Hasselback Potato Casserole
From Serious Eats
3 ounces finely grated Gruyere cheese
2 ounces finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 c heavy cream
1 T fresh thyme leaves, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
4-5 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and sliced about 1/8″ thick
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Move the oven rack to the middle position.
Grease the bottom and sides of a 2 quart casserole dish.
Combine the cheeses in a large bowl. Move about 1/3 of the cheese to a separate container and set aside.
Add the cream, thyme, and garlic to the large bowl with the cheese, and combine. Season generously with salt and pepper.
Add potato slices to the bowl in batches, and toss to make sure that every slice is coated. Separate any slices that stick together.
Grab a handful of potato slices and arrange them into a stack. Place the stack along the edge of the casserole, stacking the potatoes vertically. Repeat with remaining potatoes, continuing to stack in rows if using a square or rectangular casserole. If using an oval casserole, first stack along the perimeter, and then move to the center. The casserole should be very tightly packed.
Pour the remaining cream mixture over the potatoes until it comes halfway up the sides of the potatoes. Depending on how many potatoes are used, you may not need all of the cream.
Place the casserole on a sheet pan, cover the casserole tightly with foil, and place it in the oven for 30 minutes.
Remove the foil and bake for an additional 30 minutes, or until the top is beginning to turn a pale golden brown.
Remove from the oven and sprinkle the reserved cheese over the potatoes, and return to the oven for a final 30 minutes, or until the top has turned deep golden brown.
Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.