French for Fancy Scalloped Potatoes
OK, there’s a slight difference: Scalloped Potatoes often are sliced more thickly, and the dish can be made without cheese. Gratin Dauphinois always contains cheese — which helps make it rich and creamy.
But if you know how to make Scalloped Potatoes, you already know how to make Gratin Dauphinois. And even if you don’t know how to make Scalloped Potatoes, no worries: This is an easy dish.
When you bring your
But just wait until they taste it. You’ll want to cover your ears, because their cheering will be that loud.
Gratins get their name from the dish they traditionally are baked and served in: a shallow oblong dish, usually with handles. But you don’t need a special dish — just use any baking dish that you’d use for a casserole.
That’s because a gratin is a casserole. Most casseroles (or gratins) feature a crispy top crust. Which is why you use a low dish with a broad surface: to increase the real estate occupied by the crust. Oven-baked Macaroni and Cheese is a gratin. So is Tuna Noodle Casserole.
The main ingredients in a gratin are usually vegetables. They cook in a smallish amount of liquid, which reduces when baking, resulting in a sauce. The liquid in gratins can be milk, cream, stock (meat or poultry), or Béchamel (white) sauce. My Macaroni and Cheese recipe uses béchamel. In the 50's version of Tuna Noodle Casserole, the cream of mushroom soup is a Béchamel sauce substitute.
You can make a gratin out of almost anything (it’s a good way to use leftovers — which is one of the reasons casseroles became popular). But probably the best-known gratins are made from potatoes. Baking time for most gratins is an hour or so.
Recipe: Gratin Dauphinois
Gratin Dauphinois originated in the Dauphiné region of France. Traditionally, cooks rubbed the baking dish with a clove of garlic, buttered the surface, and then layered in sliced potatoes and cream. Today, cheese is virtually always part of the recipe.
Here’s my basic ingredient ratio for a potato gratin (or Scalloped Potatoes): For every pound of potatoes, use a cup of liquid. When adding cheese, used 4 or 5 ounces (grated). You’ll never need to use more liquid than this, but you can add more cheese if you want a particularly rich dish.
Use a hard cheese with a good, sharp flavor. In this recipe I’m using Gruyère (which originated in the Swiss town of the same name) and Parmigiano-Reggiano (a/k/a Parmesan, from Parma in Italy). But substitute any appropriate cheese you happen to like; cheddar is commonly used in the United States.
My gratin dish is an oval that measures about 8 x 11 inches (13 with handles) and holds about 7 cups. It’s large enough to contain this recipe with room to spare. If you have a Pyrex 9 x 13 glass casserole (which holds about 12 cups), you can either double this recipe, or have a thin gratin (probably 2 layers of potatoes — the advantage is that you’ll have a very large crispy surface area).
This dish is centuries old, so most recipes for it are more or less the same. James Peterson has an extremely thorough discussion of gratins in Vegetables (I have the older version of the book, not this new one), and my recipe is adapted from his. Preparation time is 10 to 15 minutes. Cooking time is an hour. Leftovers keep well for a few days in the refrigerator in an air-tight container.
- 2 cups half-and-half, milk, cream, or a mixture (I prefer half-and-half; see Notes)
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
- 8 ounces grated Gruyère (or another hard, Swiss cheese; about 2 - 3 cups)
- 1 - 2 ounces grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 1 cup)
- ~2 pounds potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced with a mandoline, a vegetable slicer, or by hand (I prefer russet potatoes in this dish, although they aren’t traditional; see Notes)
- 1 tablespoon butter
- ¼ - ½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg (optional)
- ½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce or cayenne pepper (very optional; not traditional)
- black pepper (freshly ground)
- parsley or chives garnish (optional)
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Arrange one rack in the middle of the oven, and another in the bottom position. On the lower rack, place a baking sheet, preferably rimmed. The purpose of this is to catch any drips if the half-and-half bubbles over while baking (it doesn’t usually happen, but it can). You may wish to line the baking sheet with aluminum foil for easier clean up.
- Add half-and-half (or milk, or whatever you’re using) to a saucepan and place on stovetop over medium heat. You don’t want to bring this to a boil, just warm it well.
Peel and mince garlic clove and add to the saucepan.
- Grate your cheeses. A coarse grating rather than a fine one is sufficient. The grater attachment on a food processor works well.
- Scrub and peel your potatoes (see Notes). Using the mandoline, vegetable slicer, or knife, cut them into thin slices (about 3/16 of an inch). Thicker works, but the potatoes won’t “melt” into each other the way they do when they’re sliced more thinly.
- Butter your baking dish well.
- By now, the dairy should be warm. If using the optional nutmeg and/or Tabasco sauce or cayenne pepper, stir into the liquid to flavor it.
- Arrange the potato slices in the baking dish so they overlap and form a layer. Once the first layer is complete, sprinkle with Gruyère, salt and pepper to taste, and add a small ladle of the warm half-and-half. Repeat until you’ve used all the potatoes, saving perhaps a quarter of the Gruyère for the top layer.
- Top the gratin with Gruyère and sprinkle on the Parmesan, covering the top evenly.
- Bake on the middle rack until done, usually an hour. “Done” means the top is a nice, bubbly brown, and if you insert a paring knife into the potatoes, it goes in without resistance. If the potatoes are cooked through, but the top of the gratin isn’t as brown as you’d like, run it under the broiler for a minute or two.
- Garnish if you wish with parsley or chives, and serve.
- Cream is the traditional liquid of choice for this dish. I think half-and-half tastes just as good, without quite as much fat. You can also use milk (even skim milk), although the flavor won’t be as luscious. Whatever your choice of dairy, it will reduce as it cooks, making a nice, thick sauce.
- The starch in the potatoes thickens the half-and-half, which is why you wouldn’t want to use a béchamel sauce (which is already thick) when making this dish.
- Waxy potatoes are traditional in this dish, and in most potato gratins. Their virtue is that they hold their shape when cooked. When I’m slicing potatoes rather thickly (¼ inch or a bit more, as I sometimes do for classic scalloped potatoes), I prefer waxy potatoes too. But when I’m slicing them thinly — 3/16 of an inch or less, as in this dish — I prefer to use russet (baking) potatoes. I find that the slices meld with the cheese and half-and-half, and “melt” together.
- Because the potatoes melt together, they form nice, easily cut wedges of gratin when serving.
- Most of the time, I make this dish without nutmeg or Tabasco sauce/cayenne pepper. But both add nice flavor.
- You can mix pieces of cooked ham or bacon in with the potatoes, and create a hearty one-dish meal.
So Now Who’s the Cochon?
This is an exceptionally rich dish. It’s probably not one that you want to serve frequently, but it’s nice for special occasions — like Easter.
“I wish Easter was every day,” commented Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Do you want the rest of this?”
She nodded at the almost-empty gratin dish. I shook my head no, and she happily scraped the rest of the Gratin Dauphinois onto her plate.
I suddenly remembered the exchange we’d had when I made French Potato Salad. Mrs K R had commented on my enthusiastic appetite, suggesting in her impeccable French that I was a cochon — a pig. (I looked it up.) I reminded her of this as I gazed at her plate.
She forked gratin thoughtfully.
“Touchée,” she said. “Today I’m the porker.”
I smiled triumphantly.
“Mais je suis encore plus mince que toi.”
What? I’ll have to look that up!
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