Hete Bliksem.

Dutch food is often comfort food, and as such, much of it is boiled to mush and then mashed and occasionally sugared in some way. Mush and sausages features heavily in the Dutch cookbooks I’ve acquired over the past year, and while that approach to cooking is not without its merits, there’s only so much mushy stuff I can pass off as dinner around here.

And so, Hete Bliksem. Typically, this dish is a mash of potatoes and apples with bacon or ham, and sometimes pears or onions, and it’s sometimes served with stroop, a kind of Dutch syrup. There are an infinite number of variations on this, from the very high end to the very simple. My variation falls somewhere in the middle, with an updated approach to the cooking so that the dish will stand alone as well as it would alongside a plate of sausages or roast meats.

It makes thrifty use of bacon fat and stuff you’ve probably already got in your fridge and pantry; I’d like to think the Dutch, or at least the less stubborn among them, would be pleased.

Hete Bliksem

(Makes four servings.)

  • 1/4 lb. bacon, finely chopped
  • 1 lb. crisp, sweet apples, such as Braeburn, Honeycrisp, or Ambrosia, cored and quartered, each quarter then halved again lengthwise, and then halved again cross-wise
  • 1 lb. new or nugget potatoes, scrubbed and cut into quarters
  • 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup apple cider or unsweetened apple juice
  • 2 tbsp. fancy molasses
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. grainy mustard
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped

Preheat your oven to 375°F.

In a 12-inch cast iron or other oven-transferable pan over medium high heat, cook bacon until it is very crispy and all the fat has rendered, about six minutes. Scoop the bacon from the pan and onto a plate lined with paper towel, and set aside.

You will need about three tablespoons of fat in the pan; if you don’t have another, add up to another tablespoon of fat, either bacon fat or olive oil. Add potatoes and apples to the pan, sprinkle with salt, and toss to coat.

Roast apple and potato mixture for 60 minutes, flipping midway through the cooking process.

About 10 minutes before these are done, add apple juice, molasses, allspice and pepper to a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until reduced by about half  – it should be about the consistency of maple syrup.

Add cider vinegar and mustard, and set aside.

Remove the potato and apple mixture from the oven. Sprinkle with thyme and reserved bacon, then pour apple juice reduction over top, stirring to coat. Serve in the pan, or spooned onto a serving plate, and garnish with chopped scallions.

Hachee with beer and apples.

Hachee with potatoes and bread.Oh, the Dutch. My grandmother had a few ideas about the Dutch, and she mostly wasn’t right. But she wasn’t entirely wrong, either, and despite marrying into a bunch of them the mysteries of the Dutch didn’t begin to become apparent until recently, until this past summer when I started trying to really understand Dutch culture. Let’s just say that I’m starting to wonder how many of Nick’s quirks are the result of nature and not nurture.

One of these quirks is an inability, or perhaps unwillingness, to give a straight answer. I ask a question, I get a short story the answer isn’t even hidden within. It is literally beside the point: the point is over here, and I am now meant to do something with this other thing, these twelve oral paragraphs about something seemingly unrelated. I thought it was just Nick, who is prone to rambling and finding ways to bother me, but this might be cultural. You see, my next project is Dutch cookery and Google help you if you want to try to understand the origin or fundamentals of any Dutch recipe.

Every Dutch recipe is unlike every other Dutch recipe because everyone’s Dutch grandmother made everything different and better than everyone else’s Dutch grandmother and no one’s really written any of it down, not precisely.

(Maybe it’s not the Dutch who are at fault, here; maybe my issue is with grandmothers?)

Fortunately, I am a stubborn jackass and if something seems impossible, that’s my cue to jump in and shout SEE? I TOLD YOU I WAS ON TO SOMETHING. (Maybe I need to re-evaluate my life a little bit. This current approach is often more exhausting than it is satisfying.)

Hachee with potatoesSo in the meantime, it has taken a little longer than I’d planned to begin posting Dutch recipes, because there is a lot of learning, and a lot of trying to understand the whys of a dish before sorting out the hows. What follows is one I’m really happy with; it’s a recipe for hachee, which is a stew of beef and browned onions with apple for sweetness and acidity and very simple spices. The result is a slightly sweet, deeply savoury dish I’m certain you’ll want to make all winter.

Do you have Dutch recipes, and do you want to share them? I’d love to see (and make) them, so please email me!

A few notes:

  • Dutch bacon is not like North American bacon, in that it is not smoked. If you can find salt pork, use that; it’s inexpensive, and you can often get away with buying just a small piece at a time. If you can’t find it, bacon is fine and the stew will still be delicious.
  • I recommend using chicken stock instead of beef stock, as chicken stock is milder and doesn’t get in the way of the other ingredients – I found the beef stock was too much, and sort of did away with the subtler notes the apples brought to the pot; low-sodium or homemade chicken stock is best.
  • For apples, I chose a slightly sweet, slightly tart, firm-fleshed variety of apple – use the kind of apple you’d bake into a pie.
  • Serve hachee over mashed or boiled potatoes, buttered egg noodles, or steamed or boiled and buttered red cabbage. A heel of crusty brown bread on the side will make a good sop.

Hachee (Dutch beef stew)

  • 1/4 lb. bacon or salt pork, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 2 lbs. beef chuck, cubed
  • 2 lbs. onions, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp. molasses
  • 2 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 12 oz. / 355 mL amber or brown ale (nothing hoppy)
  • 2 lbs. firm-fleshed apples, peeled, cored and cut into wedges approximately 1/2-inch thick
  • 4 cups low-sodium or homemade chicken stock
  • 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar

In a Dutch oven or other heavy pot, brown bacon over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until fat has rendered and the bacon is crispy, about four minutes.

Scoop the bacon out and reserve. Working in batches, brown the beef in the accumulated bacon fat. As your beef browns, scoop it out and set it aside.

Once you have browned all of your beef, add the butter. Once the butter has melted, add the onions and reduce your heat to medium. Brown the onions until mostly caramelized and reduced in volume by about two-thirds; this should take between 15 and 20 minutes, and you should stir them regularly.

When onions are brown, add beef and bacon back to the pot. Add flour, and stir to coat pot contents thoroughly. Add molasses, salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and stir again. Add the bay leaf.

Add the beer to the pot, scraping the bottom of the pot as you do to scrape up any browned bits. There will be browned bits, and they will make this stew what it is. Add the apples, and then the chicken stock.

Reduce heat to medium low, and simmer, uncovered, for two and a half to three hours, until sauce is has thickened and meat is tender.

Before serving, add apple cider vinegar and stir. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed. I serve this sprinkled with a bit of fresh parsley, for colour.