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How to Hasselback (Almost) Everything

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

Once Upon a Time

There was a tavern. Actually, it was hardly more than a hut—a hut with a red roof, five tables, and 20 chairs. But the beer served at that hut was good and in the mid-1700s, five tables and 20 chairs and a red roof were enough. Dunderhyttan, as it was named, sat on a steep slope in the midst of a hazelnut thicket. (That small piece of information will be important later on, so I hope you’re taking notes.)

In 1816, the land was purchased to become the summer home for a wealthy merchant. The little red-roof hut was replaced by a much larger half-timbered building. In 1852 the property again changed hands; pastry chef Jacob Wilhelm Davidson had the vision to open a restaurant in this picturesque spot.

Now, look back at your notes. The Swedish word for the hazelnut thicket is “hassel,” and that steep slope is (of course) a “backen.” In 1853 the doors of "Hasselbacken" were opened to the rich and famous of Stockholm.

The Hasselbacken had a fiery reputation, literally. Between 1853 and 1923 it burned down seven times. However, the structure that was built in 1925 has endured and now, almost 100 years later, it still in operation. That's not to say that there have been no problems. From 1947 to 1969 the business operated as a restaurant academy and during that time the business lost some of its razzle-dazzle. But there is still a bright spot even in that part of its history.

1953 Was a Milestone Year

One of the chef trainees was a young man from Värmland, Sweden. Food historians have not uncovered all of his culinary creations; perhaps this one dish was his only brilliant invention. Leif Elisson had the vision to slice a raw potato into an accordion-type shape. This exposed the interior of the potato so that the inside would cook quickly and the exterior would crisp to a succulent golden brown. Chef Elisson created the hasselbackspotatis, or in English the hasselback potato.

And Then Things Got Strange

The realm of food blogging is a peculiar, unpredictable world. Of course, one might say that of all things social media. Who can explain what will become the next meme and what dies of obscurity in nanoseconds?

Within the world of the internet, hasselback became a verb, a very popular verb. Sometime in the mid-2010s food bloggers, recipe developers, and even executive chefs began to feature not just hasselback potatoes but hasselback everything.

A lot of our hasselback content is developed purely for its potential to go viral. Our producers decide what to make based on the success of past content. So if a hasselback potato recipe performs well, we’ll immediately put all of our resources toward creating other hasselback things.

— Alexis deBoschne, Senior Test Kitchen Manager, Tasty.co

Are Your Ready?

Here come the recipes. First, we'll look at how to make the original hasselback, the potato. Next, my friend Kenji will give us his new-and-improved version of the hasselbackpotatis. Then we'll explore all things hasselback and see just how creative we can get.

Hasselback Potato

In this first recipe, Elena explains how to slice a potato (or anything else for that matter) hasselback-fashion and not accidentally cut all the way through.

After just a minute or two of knife work, simply brush the potatoes with a mixture of olive oil, garlic, rosemary, and lemon zest. Bake for one hour and you have the perfect hasselback potato side dish for roast chicken, meatloaf, or your family's favorite steak.

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Hasselback Potato Gratin

Kenji, of Serious Eats, has one complaint about the original potato recipe. It never quite delivers as hoped. The creamy interior isn't creamy enough and the crispy edges become too crispy, even leathery. The innovation that makes the hasselback potato work in theory (the slits) actually leads to the downfall of the final dish; the interior dries out and the edges will never truly crisp without gelatinization of the starch (which again, requires moisture).

So, WWKD—what would Kenji do? He imagined potatoes au gratin and literally turned the meal sideways. He took all of the creamy-dreamy elements of the gratin (the most amazing side dish in the universe) and turned the potatoes so that instead of horizontal layers, you have stacks of potatoes standing on their edges.

Kenji's hasselback potato gratin is pure genius.

Garlic Parmesan Hasselback Zucchini

Zucchini often gets a bad rap. It's a wonderful fruit (yes, technically it's a fruit, not vegetable) that can adapt itself to so many different flavor profiles. It's a blank canvas just waiting to help you create a masterpiece. Did I mention that it is zero fat, low in calories, high in Vitamin A and a good source of fiber?

In this next recipe, Kirbie embraces the zucchini. First, they are sliced and brushed with olive oil. They are roasted until crisp-tender (not mushy). Parmesan or cheddar (your pick) is lovingly tucked in between the slices and then broiled for just a few minutes.

Maybe with the addition of cheese, even your picky eaters will enjoy this garlic Parmesan zucchini.

Maple Pecan Hasselback Butternut Squash

This maple pecan squash will add a bit of sophistication to your Thanksgiving Day meal; it's certainly prettier than sweet potatoes with toasted marshmallows, and rather than sweet mixed with sweet and creamy with creamy, it provides a diversity of tastes and textures. Squash is roasted to buttery perfection and married with the sweet/smoky flavor of pure maple syrup, the crunch of sweet pecans, and the earthy lemony taste of thyme.

Caprese-Style Hasselback Roma Tomatoes

Technically, these tomatoes are not actually hasselback—they never get near a source of heat. But these mozzarella and pesto-stuffed tomatoes by Diane Morrisey are so colorful and much easier to serve than the traditional caprese salad, I'm not going to quibble over semantics.

Baked Apples

Baked apples are a treasured memory from my childhood. We had three large apple trees in the garden of our old Victorian house and a cold cellar for storage, so we always had an ample supply of apples for pies, crisps, apple sauce, and (as a special treat) baked apples.

Kelli Foster explains that not just any apple will do. For hasselback baked apples, you need to choose a fruit that will keep its shape and not collapse. Trust me, not all apples are created equal. Honeycrisp and Pink Lady are sweet and juicy and remain firm even when heated. On the other hand, Cortland and McIntosh (for example) are great for eating but will implode to a pitiful mush when baked in the oven.

If you love apple desserts you need to try this method. Every layer of apple is bathed with cinnamon brown sugar syrup and the streusel topping adds crunch and nutty goodness. The only thing missing is a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Garlic and Sundried Tomato White Pizza Hasselback Party Bread

Garlic bread just got a promotion. Instead of simple bread and garlic butter, Cheyanne slices and fills hoagies or mini baguettes with sundried tomatoes, four cheeses, garlic, Italian seasonings, and melted butter to create white pizza hasselback party bread. Of course, if you don't mind sharing, you could use one large loaf of crusty French bread.

Spinach and Goat Cheese Hasselback Chicken

An internet query on "hasselback chicken" will yield over 1.5 million hits—and most of those will be chicken stuffed with mozzarella and basil, caprese style. We've already done caprese with the stuffed tomato.

Here's a different spin on a stuffed chicken dish; fresh spinach is wilted and then gently folded into tangy goat cheese. Next, a light sprinkle of salt, pepper, and paprika and a shower of grated mozzarella (or cheddar, or Parmesan) on top. Bake for 25 minutes and you have a healthy main dish easy enough for weeknight dinner, and fancy enough for guests, or as a romantic meal. Susan's spinach + goat cheese chicken is in my rotation.

Hasselback Stuffed Pork Roast

Rosemary Molloy has lived the life of which movies are made. Twenty years ago she traded in her life in Toronto (stocks and bonds and big city living) for vegetable gardens and vineyards with her soul mate in Rome, Italy. What people will do for love!

In Canada, her traditional Christmas dinners had always centered around a perfectly roasted turkey. However, Italians simply don't do turkey; there were none to be found. So Rosemary adapted to the situation and bought instead, a pork loin which she sliced and stuffed with pancetta, mushrooms, and herbs. Buon appetito!

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© 2019 Linda Lum

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