Growing up, the Potato Au Gratin we had at the dinner table did not look like the version I make today! It came from a box and I think if we had eaten it in the dark, they would have glowed orange! And although they may have been glowing orange and made of powdered cheese and dehydrated potatoes, I still loved them.
I see those boxed potatoes in the market to this day and I am always tempted to buy them, but I stopped eating those boxed potatoes a long time ago. I just can’t bring myself to do it. (I feel like Ina would be too disappointed in me.)
I decided it was time to make the real, grown up version, of Potatoe Au Gratin. I read many recipes and watched several videos. I tested several recipes and had many failed attempts. There were versions that were watery, versions of undercooked potatoes, potatoes cooked perfectly but lacking flavor, and the worst of all, the version that resulted in a dish of mushy potatoes sitting in cream. As frustrated as I was, I persevered on my quest for perfect Potatoes Au Gratin.
I found success thanks to a base recipe by Chef Tyler Florence. The dish is savory, satisfying and also quite elegant. Potatoe Au Gratin is the perfect side dish to serve with a bistro steak or with roasted chicken. It’s become one of my favorite recipes, especially for when an indulgent special occasion side dish is called for.
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme plus more to finish
- 2 garlic cloves chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- unsalted butter
- 2 pounds russet potatoes peeled and cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices
- 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan plus more for topping
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
In a saucepan, heat up the cream gently with the bay leaves, thyme, garlic, nutmeg and some salt and pepper.
While the cream is heating, butter a casserole dish.
Use a slotted spoon to remove the bay leaves and thyme from the cream.
Coat the bottom of the dish with a small amount of cream. Pour the remaining heated cream into a large bowl with the potato slices. Mix gently to coat the potatoes. Then select an approach for assembling.
Option 1: Rustic approach. Sprinkle the Parmesan & Cheddar over the potatoes. Season with a dash of salt and pepper. Mix to gently incorporate. Spoon the potatoes into the prepared dish. Level out the potatoes for uniform cooking time. Pour the remaining cream at the bottom of the bowl over the top. Top with more Parmesan and fresh thyme leaves. Cover the dish with aluminum foil, but poke holes in the foil for the steam to escape. Bake for about 40 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
Option 2: Controlled approach. Create a base layer of potatoes slightly overlapping in the prepared casserole dish. Season lightly with salt & pepper. Sprinkle lightly with Parmesan & Cheddar cheese. (Do not cover potatoes completely with cheese or it will be oily! Just a gentle sprinkle of cheese on each layer will do.) Spoon a bit of cream over potatoes using your judgement on portioning for each layer. Repeat (about 4 layers?) layering potatoes, seasoning, cheeses and cream, ending with pouring any remaining cream over the top. Top with more Parmesan and fresh thyme leaves. Cover the dish with aluminum foil, but poke holes in the foil for the steam to escape. Bake for about 40 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
This can be made in one casserole dish or in individual gratin dishes.