Hasselback potatoes and the first braai of 2007


20070113_hasselbackpotatoes1Since arriving in England, I have learnt that January and February are probably the worst months to be here.  Autumn lingers into November with wonderful crisp days and the smell of woodsmoke and the colour of the leaves.  Then it’s December with all the magic of the Christmas build-up.  And then January dawns and you’re broke and hung-over, and it’s still almost three months till the clocks go back to summertume and you can go home in the light.  The daffodils and crocuses haven’t poked their gorgeous heads up yet and the novelty value of infrequent snowfalls wears thin quite fast when it causes the entire public transport network to break down!  So there you are, trudging to and from work in the semi-darkness and fantasising that the weather will soon be getting better, but in reality it will be April before you see any real improvement.

Glum, glummer, glummest.

But this year, owing to global warming or heaven knows what, we had an unseasonally 20070113_porkbraai_1 mild spell in January.  Not crisp or sunny or anything – pea soupy and grey and damp, but mild, and I’m talking 12-14C mild!  So what would any red-blooded South African do in the face of such a climatic bonus?  Haul out the Weber braai and get ready to grill some meat, of course! I must say, it is the first time I have even been remotely tempted to braai in London in January, but we had the weather, plus we had a reason (a visit from another South African couple based in Ireland) – so it didn’t take long before Nick had the coals glowing and the meat sizzling.  The meat, by the way, was a deboned leg of pork, sliced into chops, much the same way that you would slice a rack of lamb into chops.  Something to remember for future reference!

To go with this, I made a big tossed salad and asked whether everyone wanted a potato bake or potato salad.  One of our guests suggested hasselback potatoes which I learnt from my school friend Alison many years ago and hadn’t made in ages – but this seemed to be the perfect opportunity to make them again.  Now I had always thought these babies were called hackleback potatoes (something to do with your hackles rising?  Who knows!) and when I was Googling them today to find out about their origins, I came up with a blank.  The one result that did come up was “hassle back potatoes” (sic) – hahaha!  Yes, let’s put the hassle back into formerly easy potatoes! But following Google’s helpful suggested alternative spelling, I came across hasselback potatoes – and there they were, just like I remembered them.  The same thinly almost-sliced-through potatoes smothered in butter and baked till soft in the middle and crispy on the outside – oh baby, it’s been too long!!

Anyway, reading through the recipes, I noticed that a number of them referred to this as a Swedish recipe, so I did what every self-respecting “Who wants to be a millionaire?” contestant would do:  I phoned a friend! More precisely, I e-mailed Anne who sent back the following:

“Hasselbacken” is a restaurant – in fact, the restaurant who invented the recipe. (Or well, so the saying goes.) So “back” has nothing to do with baking – even though that’s what you do, of course. Hasselbacken translates literally into hazel hill – “backe” is a hill, whereas “baka” is to bake.”

Now that I didn’t see coming.  The recipe I learnt in South Africa in my teenage years is actually Swedish??  I’m amazed, but I guess not more so than Alison when she learns she’s been disseminating Swedish recipes 😉  There is, however, a slight regional variation to my recipe.  The Swedish version calls for the potatoes to be peeled and brushed with melted butter (possibly garlic butter) and sprinkled with breadcrumbs towards the end of the cooking period.  Another variation (Irish?? American??) names the dish accordion potatoes and calls for them to be brushed with olive oil (or butter) and sprinkled with breadcrumbs and cheese.  However, South African cuisine has a secret weapon and one that has already amply proved its potato-friendly credentials:  brown onion soup.  Yes – from a packet.  Don’t laugh!  It is the secret ingredient that sets South African potato bakes apart from their foreign cousins and the base that launched a thousand sauces.  And in the hasselback potato recipe that I learned, it is what you sprinkle on the the potatoes once you’ve smothered them in melted butter and let me assue you it’s goooooood.  You end up with potatoes that are soft and comforting and buttery at the base but coated in crispy onion bits in top.  Just fabulous!  They are easy (no peeling!) and great with braais (BBQs) but are pretty enough to serve at a more formal dinner too.  What more could one ask for?




6 large baking potatoes, scrubbed
about 15g of butter per potato
1 pkt brown/French onion soup powder


Slice the potatoes (skin on) as thinly as you can but do not slice them all the way through!  The potato should still retain an intact base  I always struggle with this, but Anne helpfully suggests placing them in a wooden spoon while you are slicing – the curve of the spoon will stop you from slicing through.  Thanks for the tip Anne :)).

Place the potatoes in an oven-proof dish which holds them fairly snugly.  Melt the butter and drizzle all the potatoes liberally with it.  Sprinkle each potato generously with the brown onion soup powder, making sure you get some on the skin and some in between the slices.

Place the potatoes in a pre-heated 200C oven (some recipes suggest loosely covering them in aluminium foil for the first 30 minutes, but I don’t) for about 45 minutes, basting frequently with the butter that collects in the dish.  Remove when the potatoes are cooked through and the topping is crispy.

(If you are trying alternative versions using breadcrumbs and/or cheese, you only add the crumb/cheese topping in the last 25 minutes of baking.)

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  1. says

    Loved reading this Jeanne, and the last picture is just great. I’m just as amazed as you are that a Swedish recipe found its way down to South Africa – quite incredible! Although the onion soup mix, well, that I don’t quite get. :)

  2. says

    Oh, thank you for the tip, the potatoes AND the wooden spoon ! I will have to remember this. We have also had an amazingly warm winter. I hope it won’t be snowing in August (no it won’t, when “angels are travelling” as we say…) Much love, angelika

  3. says

    i can testify to instant onion soup being a great secret weapon, having tasted your gratin recently. angelika, judging by the weather i had when i went to austria last year, i wouldn’t be surprised to actually see snow!

  4. Nic says

    Hi Jeanne,
    I’m sorry this comment has nothing to do with the post. But I am struggling to reply to your email, the mail delivery system hates me apparently. So please email me when you read this with regard to SA Rocks.
    Thanks!! :)

  5. says

    Jeanne, your Hasselback tatties look gorgeous and if I wasn’t trying to cut back the butter and carbs a little at the mo, I’d be right into them, YUM!!
    Gotta say though, I find it a little hard to feel sorry for the Northern hemisphere and Winter, I mean at least up there you have Christmas and New Year in the middle to break it up. Downunder, where I’m at we have 5 long, long months of Winter, snow and frosts with no holidays to enjoy! ;-(
    But I’m not really complaining, it’s 32 C here today! hehe

  6. says

    Those potatoes sound fabulous, Jeanne. And I think we might even have some onion soup powder! We use it to make a 1960s style dip from sourcream, chives and onion soup powder – this is NOT just for potato chips (crisps) but is great as one of the dipping sauces for Fondue Chinoise.
    Alas, it’s far from braai season here – but things are looking up – we can now see the patio stones and the snow on the top barbecue cover is only about 2 inches thick. However, I feel certain that hasselback potatoes would be great with an oven-broiled chop. Thanks for posting the recipe!

  7. says

    I don’t think I’ve come across hassleback potatoes before. Great! I’m always looking for ways to make tatties more exciting. This sounds tasty and looks amazing too.

  8. says

    I’m definitely adding this to my “To Be Cooked” list when braai season opens at our house … if winter carries on being so mild, that could be really soon!

  9. says

    I can’t wait to make those potatoes, they sound wonderful. My mom used to make something similar which she called “fan potatoes” but they were much smaller potatoes as I recall, I must call and ask her.
    As for braais in winter, ever since I forked out on a Weber – 15 yrs ago – we have braaied our turkey at Christmas. It frees up the oven for all the other stuff, and as I park it just outside the back door to the kitchen I can pop out and check it regularly. Over the years I’ve done it in rain, sleet and snow and never had any problems;my DH, his family, and friends used to think I was totally mad, but now they are used to it and just think I am an eccentric African nutcase!

  10. says

    I adore potatoes cooked hasselback style! They are so delicious! I must say though, it has to be at least 20c before you’ll get me outside bbq-ing!

  11. says

    Hi Jeanne – I first thought you were writing about a BBQ from last summer (sorry!) but it is *that* warm this winter… everything looks so delicious and I’m glad you had a lovely time. Hope to join you when the weather is a bit better.

  12. says

    Hasselbackpotatis! Oh, haven’t seen that since … the 80’s. BEing from Sweden I can tell you these taters were made for fancier occasions, most often served with grilled meat. This post made me all nostalgic. Perhaps I need to bake myself a couple. Thank’s for the reminder.

  13. Marilyn Roosevelt says

    Hi there. I only came across your site today for some stupid reason, and I am soooo enjoying reading the recipes and comments. I am originally from America, then lived in London (burr cold) for ten years and am now in Cape Town. I’ve been trying to get the hang of South African cooking, so your site will help me hugely. About the hassleback potatoes, you might try skewering toward the bottom of the potatoe with either a toothpick (if it’s long enough to go end to end) or with a big skewer thingy. That way, you are sure not to cut through to the bottom of the potato. Anyway, just a thought. That’s what I do and it works a charm, keeping the fan bit even.
    One more thing, is there an onion soup brand that is best to use. I have tried this South African secret, but I never like the outcome. I’m thinking that its the soup brand I’m using which tastes plastic and yuckie. Thanks. Marilyn

  14. Happy LOL Day says

    I am late to the party here but yummm I was looking up this recipe I love taties.. this looks so good. I have not yet tried them but will go into it a lot more confident because of this THANKS :) I live in NYC btw.. would LOVE to see London and Cape Town one day..

  15. NicciH says

    My guests always love Hasselback potatoes, when I can go to the hassle…was just checking cooking times when I came upon this site, love your chatty tone, it appealed to even me…a cold blooded londoner…but my HOT tip for these yummy spuds (to replace roasties), is, when peeled, use a thin metal skewer, pushed lengthways through the spuds about 1-2 cm from the base, then when you cut down the thin slices, the knife stops at the skewer!!! Even better, if you have inconveniently bought rotund spuds that just won’t sit still in the pan, before you do the aforementioned cuts, take a thin slice off the ‘bottom’ so they sit nice and flat so the slices on top get really crunchy….ooooh can’t wait…

  16. Kate says

    Came across your receipe and am trying it. It is a snowy evening here in Massachusetts, and the scent of the potatoes roasting in the hot oven is bliss. I used olive oil and added parmesan cheese, garlic and fresh rosemary – mouth wateringly good.

    • Jeanne says

      Holy cow – your additions sound absolutely wonderful!! I am going to have to try that. thanks for reminding me about this recipe that I have not made myself in ages :)