Hasselback potatoes are frequent offerings on Midwestern tables and have enjoyed spikes in popularity through the years. Said to have originated at the Hasselbacken inn in Sweden, these buttery treats show up now across the country and, if the Internet is any indication, all around the world. They are potato perfection, with crispy edges, creamy centers and toasty bottoms. Hasselbacking requires a sharp knife, patience and ingenuity, all of which I’m willing to devote to a very special side .
The key to a Hasselbacked potato is making extremely slim slices through most, but not all, of the potato. When done properly, they are so thin the potato will look like a Slinky. While cooking, the slices fan open, allowing the flavored butter to permeate the center of the potato. As the butter melts, it pools on the bottom of the pan, roasting the potato from the bottom up. It’s more than just a delicious recipe — it’s a beautiful presentation.
The thinner the potato is sliced, the snappier the crispy edges. To slice only part of the way through the potato is challenging but not impossible. I employ the Two-Chopstick-Method: Rest the potato lengthwise between two chopsticks and slice downward. The chopsticks will keep the knife from slicing all the way through, so that the potato remains intact. Two identical wooden spoons will also work, with the potato resting on the parallel handles. And I’ve recently learned there is a Hasselback tool (more than 12 versions available online!) — a wooden block with a scooped out center into which the potato nestles. Some versions of the tool have a wire topper that fits over the potato and guides the knife.
Once sliced, the Hasselback technique calls for butter to be pushed between the slices. This is a marvelous idea but nearly impossible to achieve. Instead, coat the top of the potato thickly with the herbed butter, pushing it between the slices to the best of your ability. It will get there in the oven, so don’t worry. Be very generous with the finely chopped herbs that flavor the butter. It should smell spectacular while cooking. For extra crispy bits, I mixed panko crumbs into the butter. When the butter melts, those crumbs attach to the edges of the potato slices, and the crunch factor is amplified.
To effectively serve many people, rather than using full-size potatoes, this recipe can be made with small fingerling-shaped spuds. I combined sweet potatoes and the whole rainbow of potato hues — purple, red and gold — often packaged together in the produce department at many grocery stores. These smaller potatoes take up less room on the plate.
I packed my largest cast-iron pan with these small potatoes, all Hasselbacked. After time in the oven, they were deliciously crispy on the top. The heat from the pan bronzed the bottom of the potatoes and kept the dish hot for a long time after removing it from the oven. The smaller potatoes took about an hour, while full-size potatoes baked for 90 minutes or more. Time is less predictable with varying sizes, so use a fork to poke the center of the largest potato, looking for a soft and yielding texture as an indication of doneness.
I’ve been playing with root vegetables and the Hasselback technique. Try it with small white turnips, parsnips and carrots. It’s amenable to celeriac and rutabaga, too.
Makes 12 servings
4 pounds russet potatoes or sweet potatoes
4 ounces (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage leaves
1 garlic clove, finely grated
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup panko
Scrub the potatoes and peel, if desired. To “hasselback,” place a potato on a cutting board. Snugly arrange two chopsticks or two identical round handles of wooden spoons at either side of the potato. (If needed, slice a slim piece from the bottom of the potato so that it will sit squarely.) Using a sharp knife, make 1/8-inch slices along the length of the potato, using the chopsticks as a brake, so that while slicing, the blade stops before cutting all the way through the potato. Be aware of the ends of the potatoes, taking care not to slice all the way through. When finished, the top of the potato will fan out slightly. Place the potatoes in a bowl of ice water to keep them from browning while cutting the others.
In a medium bowl, stir together the softened butter, chives, parsley, thyme, sage, garlic, salt and pepper until well blended. Fold in the panko. (At this point, the butter may be shaped into a roll or stick and refrigerated for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 3 months.)
Preheat the oven to 400 F with the rack in the middle.
Thoroughly dry the potatoes. Using your fingertips, slather the potatoes with about half of the buttery crumbs, taking time to press the mixture between the slices. This will be challenging as the potato will be stiff and uncooperative. Once buttered, place the potatoes in a baking pan, casserole dish or cast-iron skillet, fitting them snugly in one layer. Place a piece of parchment over the potatoes and cover the dish with foil, sealing it well.
Bake for 30 minutes, remove the foil and parchment and plunge a fork into the center of the largest potato. It should yield and be soft but not collapse. If it is still hard, replace the parchment and foil and bake for an additional 15 minutes. If softened, draw the tines of the fork along the top of each potato to fan the slices. Plop nuggets of the remaining butter-crumb mixtures over the top of each potato. Bake, uncovered, an additional 15 to 20 minutes, until the potatoes are soft and yielding and slightly crisped on the surface. Spoon the herbed butter over the top of the potatoes and serve.
Note: Leftover hasselback potatoes are a superb start to any hash and a nice breakfast, served with a fried egg.
Make ahead: The seasoned butter and panko may be made 3 months ahead and frozen. The dish may be made 1 day ahead; it does not freeze well. Reheat at 400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes.
Nutrition per serving: 220 calories, 4 g protein, 34 g carbohydrates, 8 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 110 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar