The recipe this week is based on faith. Your faith in believing what I am about to tell you. This dish is delicious and a much beloved and popular Swedish dish created in the 1970s. It is easy to prepare, quick to bake and economical in that it is made from storecupboard ingredients. All good so far. OK, so here’s the challenge: it is made with chicken, bananas, ketchup, chilli, bacon and salted peanuts.
Hey! Come back!
Why are you running away!?
Don’t worry, it was a natural reaction, and I’m going to reassure you.
But first, story time!
Back in 1976, air-freight engineer Ove Jacobsen was participaring in a pot-luck dinner with his neighbours. The conditions of the dishes were that they had to be prepared from ingredients already in the house – no shopping trips allowed! When he presented his cobbled-together dish, everyone thought it was hilarious, but it caused a much greater stir when they tasted it, because everyone enjoyed it so much.
One of Ove’s neightbours was Anders Tunberg, who worked at “Allt om Mat” (All about Food) – Sweden’s largest food magazine. He persuded Ove to allow him to publish the recipe, which they christened “Flygande Jacob” as a nod to both Ove’s job and his family name. The title of the article was “Fest för många goda vänner” (party for many good friends) and the dish was an instant hit. It has remained popuar in Swedish households ever since, and can also be found served in schools and work canteens.
A Swedish friend told me that nowadays, it is sometimes looked down upon for no other reason than being a product of it’s time. Let’s face it, 1970s food doesn’t have a stellar reputation whatever country you’re from. But by the end of our conversation he said “Actually, I might make some tonight” which just demonstrates the nostalgic fondness it holds in the heart of a nation.
Part intrigued, part horrified by the ingredients, Reader, I made it.
Almost immediately I hit a road bump, because in subsequent interviews, Ove was very insistant that the ketchup should be Heinz Chilli Tomato Ketchup and no other. Well, I looked it up online and in the UK we don’t have that particular type readily available, and so I had to improvise. In a moment of what I can only ascribe to temporary insanity, I decided to use what I had which was ketchup and sriracha in equal proportions.
Well, it practically blew my head off. I mean I’m not afraid of a lick of spice, but this was more a sledgehammer to the palate. Surprisingly, it was the banana that saved me. [Note to self: Oooh, write that down, that’s a corker of a chapter heading for my memoir!]. The sweetness really helped combat the heat of the sriracha. So apart from the whole head blowing off levels of spiciness, it really was very nice, and I resolved to tinker with it a bit in order to make it completely to my liking.
This is also what the Swedes have done. I have found recipes that substitute cashews for the peanuts, curry powder or full-on cayenne pepper for the Italian seasoning, and even vegan versions with smoked tofu (bacon), sweet potato (chicken) and vegan/coconut cream.
So how does it taste?
The tweaks I made include increasing the quantity of bananas to match that of the chicken, because the sweetness pairs so well with the chicken and is a great contrast against the spicy sauce. Cutting the bananas into pieces the same size as the chicken makes for a much better mix because you can then get both chicken and banana on a single spoonful. The chicken remains firm and the banana is softened by the cooking but still retains its shape. Substituting reduced fat creme fraiche for the whipping cream reduces the richness and serving the peanuts and bacon separately for everyone to help themselves allows for the right combination of salty crunch to everyone’s tastes. The result is a sweet and savoury bite in a creamy, slightly spicy sauce. The chopped peanuts and salty, smoky bacon stop the sweetness from becoming overpowering, and add great texture and a salty crunch. It really is a delicious dish, even though you think it shouldn’t be.
If you can find the chilli ketchup favoured by Ove, you can use the original recipe – ingredients below.
- 4 ready-grilled chicken breasts
- 1 teaspoon Italian salad seasoning
- 4-5 bananas
- 450ml whipping cream
- 250ml Heinz chilli tomato ketchup
- 140g streaky bacon
- 100g roasted salted peanuts
If, after all my assurances, you doubt the culinary tastes of an entire nation, I’ve reduced the quantities to a single (generous) serving below.
Flying Jacob for One
1 cooked chicken breast
½ teaspoon italian herb seasoning.
2 small bananas
½ cup/ 125ml reduced fat creme fraiche
½ cup/ 125ml sweet chilli sauce
½ cup/ 125ml tomato ketchup
1-2 tbs/15-30ml sriracha, or more to taste
salt and pepper
2-3 rashers lean smoked back bacon – dry cure for preference
2-3tbs roasted salted peanuts
boiled rice & a simple salad
- Heat the oven to 220°C, 200°C Fan.
- Cut the chicken and bananas into similarly-sized pieces – about 2cm cubes is good – and put them into a bowl.
- Sprinkle the chicken mix with the herb seasoning.
- Mix together the creme fraiche, chilli sauce, ketchup and sriracha (or other hot sauce) to your taste. It will make a rather alarming colour I like to call ‘Surgical Appliance Pink’. Don’t worry – it will become darker and more appetising during baking. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Pour the sauce over the chicken and bananas and stir gently to combine.
- Pour the mixture into an oven-safe dish (I used a smallish gratin dish like this), and bake for 20 minutes until heated through and bubbling.
- While the chicken is heating, cook the bacon and chop finely. Place in a small serving dish.
- Chop the peanuts. Place in a small serving dish.
- Serve the heated dish with plain rice – I used brown rice in the photo – and a simple side salad to balance the richness. Sprinkle the bacon and peanuts to your liking.