My parents weren't adventurous cooks, so we always ate very traditional food growing up in Finland. We'd have fish – often herring, sardines, salmon, trout or pike – and the fish was always served with potatoes on the side. Potatoes are Finland's idea of breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The simple flavours of my childhood really influenced Cafe Paci's potato dumplings with XO trout. When you get rid of the word "dumpling" and "XO", it's really just potato and trout. And that's what we'd have when Dad got home from work at 5.30pm – perhaps baked, and again, always with boiled potatoes. My parents are salt-and-pepper people, and wouldn't even know what XO sauce is. I remember the first time they heard about soy sauce and brought it into the house. They were dipping sausages into it like it was a mustard or tomato sauce, and then it sat in the fridge for 12 years! I still find it very comforting to eat super-simple, super-Finnish flavours. It tastes like home to me.
When I was getting ready to open Cafe Paci, I thought XO sauce was too popular to put on the menu. But I ate dinner at Momofuku Seiobo, maybe a year ago, and chef Paul Carmichael had a dish that had an XO made from salt cod. It really opened my eyes to the fact you don't always need to use prawns, scallops or expensive hams to make a delicious XO. From there, I knew I wanted to create an XO dish that was not too Asian or spicy a flavour; something that was very subtle and more about aromatics than heat. A nod to that traditional Finnish fish and potato combination that our family loves so much.
In Finland, making dumplings is often about making use of leftovers. They're made with everyday food like potatoes, or old bread soaked in milk. It's nothing luxurious, but it's super-tasty. And even more so when my mum strains off yesterday's soup and uses that broth to poach the dumplings in. For my version, instead of relying on flour and egg like you would if you were making gnocchi, we use a lot more potato starch, which makes the dumplings much lighter and fluffier. You don't have to go to the effort of making the dumplings if you don't want to. You could just warm leftover boiled potatoes in the pan and use the XO as a dressing. But I like the idea of having friends over, and getting everyone involved over a bottle or two of wine. When you make food together, you appreciate it so much more when you eat it.