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Recipe: 3 ways to make Utah’s classic funeral potatoes
With Italian herbs, sun-dried tomatoes and a Japanese breadcrumb topping, Bickering Sister's owner Karen Larabee's take on this classic Utah dish is a delicious update.
SARAH WELLIVER/Standard-Examiner

Recipe: 3 ways to make Utah's classic funeral potatoes

Funeral potatoes are the classic Utah comfort food — warm, cheesy, creamy and hearty.

The casserole isn’t just for times of mourning. My own mother, Shanna Bauer, cooked them up for Sunday dinners at my childhood home in Mendon. They were a staple at potlucks with the extended family living in Cache and Box Elder counties.

“I think the history is partly that potatoes were home-grown, cheap and most people had them,” Mom told me. 

The dish’s strong ties to Utah culture is intrinsically linked to the Mormon faith, with Relief Society women preparing the dish to feed large gatherings with ingredients that most households had on hand. Women often shared potato casserole recipes in ward cookbooks, although in my Mom’s own books, they weren’t called “funeral potatoes” until recently.

She has a hunch on how they got the moniker.

“When there was a funeral the ward paid for a ham or some kind of meat and the rest of the potluck items were donated by ward members,” she said. “This recipe for potatoes was one dish, easy to serve without a lot of condiments and easy to transport.”

My mom’s own recipe came from her mother and grandmother.

Throughout the years, Utahns have concocted all kinds of variations on the dish, but they all have a few elements in common — some kind of cream, some kind of cheese, some kind of crunchy topping and, of course, potatoes. While Mom’s recipe is a bite of nostalgia, I asked a some Ogden-based chefs for their own takes on the dish with Utah roots.

The result is three unique funeral potato recipes, held together with the staples — some kind of cheese, some kind of cream, and, of course, potatoes.

The classic

This is Mom’s fourth-generation recipe. While modern conveniences like frozen, pre-cut potatoes have made their way into recipes today, Mom prefers the old-fashioned way of boiling hers whole.

“Personally, I believe the boiling russet potatoes with their skins on in a little salt water until almost done and then grating them makes the best potatoes,” she said. “However, if you overcook the potatoes, they turn to mush when you grate them. If they aren’t cooked enough, they are starchy and hard.”

Recipe

Au Gratin Potatoes

6 medium potatoes

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 cup sour cream

1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

1/2 cup finely diced onion

1/4 cup butter

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Boil potatoes with skins until tender. Cool, then peel.

Combine cream of chicken soup, sour cream, cheese, onion and butter in a saucepan and heat over medium. Salt and pepper to taste.

Grate potatoes on a large grate, then combine all ingredients and add to a 9 by 13 casserole pan. Bae for 25 minutes. Top with additional grated cheese and cornflakes, return to oven and heat until cheese melts. 

The Ogden twist

This recipe comes courtesy of Sandy’s Fine Foods and Roosters Brewing, both Ogden-based restaurants. Sandy’s got its start in 1976 with owners Lyle and Sandy Evertsen. Their daughter and son-in-law, Kym and Pete Buttschardt, went on to open Rooster’s on Ogden’s Historic 25th Street as well as the Union Grill. 

“Many years ago, we made a version of funeral potatoes for catering events, our recipe was called ‘sour cream potatoes,’” Pete said, who’s also the chef for Rooster’s.

That recipe came from Sandy’s Fine Foods. Here’s Sandy’s version with a kick, Ogden-style. To give it even more local flavor, top with Beehive Cheese — Rooster’s was one of the first restaurants to use the local cheesemaker’s products in their dishes.

Recipe

Sour Cream Potatoes with a Twist

2-3 pounds shredded hash browns

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 can cream mushroom soup with roasted garlic

3/4 cup evaporated milk or cream

2 cups sour cream

4 tablespoons butter, melted

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 pound shredded hot pepper cheese

Additional cheese for topping

1 can chopped green chilies

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl, except potatoes and extra cheese. Add potatoes and mix again. Pour into buttered 9 inch by 13 inch casserole dish and bake covered for 35-40 minutes.

Uncover and stir, especially the edges, then bake another 15 to 20 minutes, uncovered, until hot in the middle. When hot and bubbly, top with remaining cheese — using cheddar is OK — and bake a few more minutes until melted. 

The modern mash-up

Karen Larabee, owner of the Bickering Sisters, isn’t from Utah. Ergo, she didn’t grow up with funeral potatoes. That might be why her concept offers the most variation on the classic.

It’s a little internationally inspired, with Italian herbs, sun-dried tomatoes and Japanese breadcrumb topping. It also forgoes the heaviness of the sour cream and condensed soups.

“I figured I’d do a clean version. There’s no processed food in it,” she said. 

The recipe takes a little more skill than the toss-in-a-pot recipes, but it’s still fairly straightforward. Once its delicious smell starts wafting from the oven, you’ll know it was worth the extra effort.

Recipe

Italian-seasoned Cheesy Potatoes 

3.5 pounds frozen shredded potatoes

1/2 pound butter

1 cup flour

5 cups milk

5 cups cheddar cheese

1 cup sun-dried tomatoes

1/4 cup chopped green onions

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

2 teaspoons Italian seasoning

1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Stir in flour. Once flour and butter are incorporated, whisk in milk one cup at a time. Add potatoes, cheese, salt and pepper. Stir until well-mixed.

Fold in tomatoes and onions.

Spread mixture in a casserole dish.

In a medium bowl, mix together panko and Italian seasoning. Layer on top of potato mixture. 

Bake for 50 minutes. 

Contact reporter Leia Larsen at llarsen@standard.net.