A Great Potato Gratin

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My first challenge of the New Year was actually a challenge I set for myself for the Christmas dinner I was hosting. I wanted to finally master the potato gratin. Although many recipes go by the name gratin, the one I’m referring to is the classic Gratin Dauphinois, with cream and melted Gruyere cheese. This is one of my favorite special occasion dishes, but I had never been able to make a really good one.

It seems like a simple dish. It contains only four or five ingredients: potatoes, cream, Gruyere cheese, salt and maybe garlic. But every time I made it before, it either turned out very gloppy, with a lot excess liquid, or the potatoes didn’t get tender enough. It was time to stop fooling around and get serious.

For help, I turned to Patricia Wells’ Bistro Cooking, which practically has a whole chapter dedicated to potato gratins. I ended up combining steps from two different recipes, and the results were magnificent. The gratin was crusty and cheesy, the potatoes were tender and redolent with cream, and I couldn’t resist going back for seconds.

Here’s what I learned about making a really good gratin. First, slice the potatoes thinly and consistently. If you only get out your mandoline once a year, now is the time. I sliced mine 3/8 inch thick, which seemed a little thick to me, but they cooked up beautifully.

Second, pre-cook the sliced potatoes at a low simmer — not a boil — for about 10 minutes. This ensures they will be tender after they come out of the oven.

Finally, choose a shallow dish for baking. I don’t have a proper gratin pan, so I used a lasagna baking dish. I made two layers of potatoes and cheese, and that worked out very well. The gratin itself was cooked and beautiful ahead of schedule, at just 45 minutes.

Now that I know how to make a really good potato gratin, it will be a challenge not to make it more often. Here’s the recipe as I prepared it.

Potato Gratin

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and halved
  • 2 pounds baking potatoes, such as russets, peeled and very thinly sliced
  • 1 cup freshly grated French or Swiss Gruyere cheese
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a low simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally so that the potatoes do not stick to the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring from time to time, until the potatoes are tender but not falling apart, about 10 minutes.

Thoroughly rub a shallow baking dish with the garlic. Using a slotted spoon, transfer half of the potatoes to the dish. Sprinkle with half the cream and half the cheese. Sprinkle with salt. Cover with the remaining potatoes, and sprinkle again with the remaining cream and cheese. Sprinkle again with salt. Bake, uncovered, until crisp and golden on top, 45-60 minutes. Serve immediately.

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8 thoughts on “A Great Potato Gratin

  1. bluemixer 2 January 2011 at 6:04 pm

    Great post. What other cheese could you use rather than Gruyere?

  2. Shannon 2 January 2011 at 6:50 pm

    Thanks! Any firm cheese that melts well would work, I would think. You could substitute Emmenthal with good results. If you want a more American flavor, you could try a mild cheddar.

  3. […] What was I eating last week? A Great Potato Gratin. […]

  4. pat turlington 4 January 2011 at 9:39 pm

    I was present for this dish at Christmas. I have made this dish before but this was so much better than anything that I have made. I think the cheese choice was the best. Thanks Shannon.

  5. Your Dad 11 January 2011 at 8:16 pm

    I saved this recipe. But maybe I’ll get you to bring it over next time. In the meantime I’ll give it a try.

    Do you have a mandoline? I’ve been wondering if I need one.

  6. Shannon 11 January 2011 at 8:21 pm

    Yes, I got one as a wedding present, but I use it only once a year or so. It’s really only good when you absolutely need something cut thinly and evenly. Otherwise, you can usually get by with a knife or food processor.

  7. A Great Potato Gratin « iHousewife 14 January 2011 at 8:28 pm

    […] A Great Potato Gratin […]

  8. […] A Great Potato Gratin (simplycooking.wordpress.com) […]

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