Monday, April 2, 2012

Gratin Dauphinois

Gratin Dauphinois on Plate with Baking Dish in Background

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 Scalloped Potatoes Gratin Dauphinois to the table and tell your guests what you’re serving, they’ll be impressed.  What a fancy dish!  French, too.  Who knew you were such an accomplished cook? 

But just wait until they taste it.  You’ll want to cover your ears, because their cheering will be that loud.


Gratin Dauphinois on Black Acrylic

About Gratins

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.

Ingredients
  • 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)
  • salt
  • black pepper (freshly ground)
  • parsley or chives garnish (optional)
Procedure
  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. Grate your cheeses.  A coarse grating rather than a fine one is sufficient.  The grater attachment on a food processor works well.
  4. 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.
  5. Butter your baking dish well.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Top the gratin with Gruyère and sprinkle on the Parmesan, covering the top evenly.
  9. 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.
  10. Garnish if you wish with parsley or chives, and serve.
     
Gratin Dauphinois on Plate with Baking Dish in Background

Notes
  • 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.
Gratin Dauphinois in Baking Dish, Overhead View

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!

You may also enjoy reading about:
Macaroni and Cheese
Tuna Noodle Casserole
 Hungarian Noodles and Cabbage with Bacon
French Potato Salad
Cheddar Cheese Chicken Curry

47 comments:

  1. Oh, my dear! I think I just let out an audible gasp. These potatos sound amazing, and I know YOU know my fondness for bechamel. Sometimes, you just gotta have it!

    Also, thank you so much for talking about baking dishes. I always sweat over selecting the "right" one and hold my breath as my treat cooks up.

    Thanks again for another wonderful -- and beautifully photographed -- post!

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    1. Hi Amy, I certainly do remember your Béchamel sauce story - in your great post on Macaroni and Cheese. Thanks for the kind words, and for taking time to comment.

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  2. I can be the cochon with this plate of food. :) I've always precooked my potato slices in some milk first. Maybe I have a crap oven but it seems to take forever for the potatoes to be cooked. Love this dish!

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    1. Hi Maureen, I think we're all cochons when it comes to this dish. I've seen recipes where you boil the potatoes in milk, and have even made them that way. But it's easier to bake them in the oven. I always slice my potatoes pretty thin (I have a mandolin, so it's easy) - perhaps that's the difference? Or maybe you need to raise your oven's temperature a bit? I know thermostats are often off. Anyway, thanks for your comment.

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  3. I adore this dish with it's rich, creamy, decandent flavor. You've definitely mastered it and offer great tips as always. I wish I could eat this everyday. I know I could sit down and in one sitting finish the entire dish. Of course then I'd feel sick and fat so best not to attempt that.

    Thanks for sharing this recipe and all your tips. Hope you and Mrs. Riff have a wonderful Easter!

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    1. Hi Vicki, great dish, isn't it? I'd love to eat it everyday, too - but then I'd look like a blimp. Happy Easter to you! Thanks for your comment.

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  4. I am drooling. My absolute, hands down favorite is potatoes. And cheese, who can resist? Unfortunately this won't work for Passover but I will try it the first opportune moment I get. And since it is just me maybe I'll be a cochon! Good choice!

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    1. Hi This is How I Cook, always delighted to make my readers drool! Being a cochon is always a good thing - just ask me; or Mrs K R! Thanks for stopping by.

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  5. I love the detailes given here like the size of the gratin dish to the origin of the different cheeses. I love the sound of this dish . I would love to try it out.

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    1. Hi Asmita, it's a great dish, and I hope you have a chance to try it. Glad you enjoyed the post, and thanks for taking time to comment.

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  6. YES! this is one of my favorite sides to make, i usually want half-and-half, should use skim, and then end up using lowfat milk...

    interesting idea of throwing some ham in there too, what is better than potatoes and ham??

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    1. Hi Lannie, I know what you mean about deciding whether to use half-and-half, skim, cream, whatever. I always think that I'm being virtuous in using half-and-half instead of cream (so I won't feel guilty about not using skim!). Thanks for your comment.

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  7. I definitely love a good portion of creamy potatoes! well, maybe not a "good" portion seeing as I will have a whole pot!

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    1. Hi Jesica, the whole pot? You should meet Mrs K R! She - well, me too - could easily consume an entire batch. Thanks for your comment.

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  8. The french name makes this dessert classier than it already is - potato is delicious in any form but on top when cooked like this!

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

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    1. Hi C C Uru, it's a great dish! And as Gertrude Stein said, a rose is a rose is a rose. I guess the corollary is a potato is a potato is a potato! Thanks for your comment.

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  9. Claudine in FranceApril 3, 2012 at 4:15 AM

    As appetising as this dish looks, it cannot be called Gratin Dauphinois, as the ingredients list cheese (and Tabasco!)

    Speaking as a French person from the Dauphiné (the French region where Gratin Dauphinois originates from), I can confidently say that Gratin Dauphinois is made with potatoes, cream, garlic, salt and pepper... and nothing else. No cheese of any kind and certainly no Tabasco, as these items are not regional to the Dauphiné.

    A real Gratin Dauphinois is made from peeled and sliced potatoes, gently pre-cooked in cream, then baked in the oven.
    Simple enough... and no cheese (or Tabasco!) required.

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    1. Hi Claudine, you make a good point. My understanding also is the traditional Gratin Dauphinois never included cheese (and certainly not Tabasco!). But my understanding also is that Gratin Dauphinois is kind of like bouillabaisse: the dish has evolved so much over time that what is served now often isn't like the dish was first prepared. I know I've seen Gratin Dauphinois on menus in Paris restaurants that included cheese. And Julia Child - who is certainly American, but was trained in France - writes in the first Volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (which was coauthored by 2 French women) that "although some authorities on le vrai gratin dauphinois would violently disagree, you may omit the cheese" in this dish. I love a good food fight!

      Anyway, your point is good, and I largely agree. My point, I guess, is that the dish has evolved so that certainly in the US, cheese in this dish is the norm. Thanks so much for commenting; I value your opinion.

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    2. By the way, I don't mean to be pedantic - although, alas, this may sound that way - but I just checked my copy of Escoffier's Le Guide Culinaire, and he lists Gruyère as an ingredient in Gratin de Pommes de Terre à la Dauphinoise (recipe #4200). He also includes a beaten egg - to help hold together the sauce - something I find unnecessary. Anyway, since Escoffier did an awful lot to establish standard recipes, it certainly appears that by the early 20th century someone in France was putting cheese in this dish. Again, not trying to be pedantic - just found this interesting, so thought I'd add it. Thanks for stimulating me to do additional research!

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    3. hello .... I join the opinion of Claudine and I want to point out that "Gratin Dauphinois" is not the same thing as "gratin potatoes Dauphinoise the" Gratin Dauphinois for real: neither ham nor tabasco or parsley, just cream, potatoes, salt, pepper, garlic and grated nutmeg .... when au gratin potatoes dauphinoise to .... it is another thing ... you can put whatever you want in it, it happens to me for the holidays add slices of truffle (fungus) scattered in the dish (without the ham, parsley and Tabasco), this is a delight .... I assure you that even here, in France, there is often confusion between the two casseroles. After all, it is very good same nature and thank you to taste our cuisine
      Good luck with your blog

      PS: a similar recipe that I often: http://snoupette.cuisineblog.fr/54046/Le-gratin-complet/

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    4. Hi Soupette, please note that when I mention Tabasco as a possible ingredient, I do note that it's very optional, and not traditional. It just tastes good; but Tabasco was developed by people originally from France who eventually settled in New Orleans, so although not a traditional French ingredient, in some cases it goes well with traditional French dishes. Any rate, I certainly do understand the passions that arise about what is and is not appropriate in a traditional dish! And it's fun to discuss. And many people disagree with Escoffier, who stipulated Gratin Dauphinois must contain cheese (and an egg!). But thanks for your thoughtful comment, and I'll check out your blog.

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  10. There is just nothing that screams "happy place" like layered, cheesy, creamy bakes;you certainly accomplished that all here!

    http://www.giddygastronome.com/

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    1. Hi Nazarina, happy place indeed! Great description. Thanks for your comment.

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  11. Your photos of this dish are show stoppers. I also like your recipe. The dish is a great way to bring a punch of flavor to the table and I plan to try them ASAP. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

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    1. Hi Mary, it's a tasty recipe - and I like your wording, "a great way to bring a punch of flavor to the table." Very descriptive. Thanks for your kind words, and for taking time to comment.

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  12. Ooh this is something that has been on my list to make for some time!! It really is a celebration side, but oh so good! And very elegant for a casserole. Yours looks wonderful and I've bookmarked it to make soon. Thanks!

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    1. Hi Katherine, it's a fun dish to make, wonderful to eat - you've got a good time coming! Let me know how it turns out. Thanks for commenting.

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  13. Great photos and great recipe! I like potatoes gratin, but don't make it often, because, well, it is a dish for special occasions. Great recipe, will be bookmarking it for using later.

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    1. Hi Biana, I think you'll enjoy it. And I agree, it's best for special occassions. Thanks for the kind words and your comment.

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  14. Oh, yum, yum, yum, yum, yum!

    I think The Chef and I could together devour an entire pan of these ... but I'm not going to let that stop me from making them!

    Fabulous post!

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    1. Hi Kimberly, I know Mrs K R and I could polish off a batch at one sitting, if we'd let ourselves! Thanks for your kinds words, and for your comment.

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  15. You know how excited I am to see this delicious recipe! I love potatoes and this is something I would really enjoy! Beautiful pictures.

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    1. Hi Nami, I love potatoes too, and they really shine in this recipe! Of course with all that cheese, what wouldn't shine? Thanks for the kind words and for your comment.

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  16. Now this recipe excites me a lot! I'm gonna have to make it this coming weekend for sure.

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    1. Hi Robert, I hope you enjoy it! Let what you think after you've made it. Thanks for taking time to comment.

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  17. I love potatoes. I love cheese. Do I have to tell you how much I adore gratins?

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    1. Hi Beth, why yes indeed, I suspect you do adore gratins, given your love for potatoes & cheese! Great dish, aren't they? Thanks for stopping by.

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  18. Fantastic pictures! This is a must make for Easter Sunday!

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    1. Hi Mother Rimmy, it's a great dish - you can't go wrong making it! Thanks for your kind words, and for taking time to comment.

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  19. These were on our Sunday Easter dinner. A big hit, and I'm having some of the leftovers with poached eggs for lunch. You will need to share with us the translation of what Mrs. KR said!

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    1. Hi Denise, great dish, isn't it? As for Mrs K R's line, Google Translate is your friend! (Just go to Google, enter Google Translate, and there you are. Really useful tool.) But to save you the trouble, it's "But I'm still thinner than you." ;-) Thanks for your comment.

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  20. It looks amazing - but I have to add to the cheese debate: in Paris, the only time I've seen cheese included the chef was American. Google "recette gratin dauphinois" if you don't believe me.

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    1. Hi Anonymous, oh, I know there's a debate! And there are certainly valid reasons not to include cheese in this dish. But do recall that Escoffier insisted the dish must contain cheese - and his was an extremely influential voice in French cuisine throughout much of the 20th century. And Paul Bocuse in his 1977 cookbook (written in French for a French audience, although it was translated into English) calls for cheese in his version. And his was an influential voice in French cuisine during the last half of the 20th century and into the 21st. The recipe is pretty good as written; but if cheese offends, anyone making the dish should omit it. thanks for the comment.

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  21. Hi ! I had to add a precision. The french dish "gratin dauphinois" is actually, traditionnaly made WITHOUT cheese. People just add cheese to make it more "gourmand". Also its made with fresh garlic.
    :)

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    1. Hi Celia, I do know the dish originally had no cheese. But my understanding - perhaps incorrect - is in the early 20th century it became pretty standard to include cheese. But I appreciate your perspective, and thanks for commenting.

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  22. Me man. Me like potatoes. Me make your recipe and everyone eat until all gone.

    Roar. I am champion!

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    1. Hi Anonymous, me man too and like potatoes! ;-) Glad you enjoyed this, and thanks for letting me know.

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