Potatoes Au Gratin

By Christina Collins

The most luscious & lovely of all the side dishes

Growing up, the Potatoes Au Gratin, or scalloped potatoes, 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.)

Potato au gratin
Thinly sliced Russet potatoes cooked in cream, thyme and cheese is the ultimate indulgence

A good while back, I decided it was time to make the real, grown up version of Potatoes Au Gratin. I read many recipes , watched several videos, tested countless recipes and had many, 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 broken cream. And lets face it, if they aren’t done right, they aren’t worth the calories! Yet, as frustrated as I was, I persevered on my quest for perfect Potatoes Au Gratin because I knew it could be done perfectly.


Success is finally found!

I finally found success in perfecting a savory, satisfying and rather elegant Potatoes Au Gratin recipe. It was worth all the effort, trials and tribulations to demystify the challenges of this finicky dish. It is the perfect side dish to serve with a bistro steak, rack of lamb or roasted chicken, and I. Just. Love. It! It’s become one of my favorite recipes, especially for special occasions.

Why this recipe works

The potato. The type of potato matters very much in this dish. You must choose fresh, russet potatoes. Every other style potatoes turned to mushy.

Technique. After much testing, the perfect thickness of potatoes is exactly 1/8″. This is the perfect job for a mandolin.

Seasoning. Many recipes call for simply cream & potatoes, but it’s not enough to excite the palate. This dish responds really well to a touch of thyme so I infuse the cream with thyme before introducing it to the potatoes.

Ingredients. Cheese. Traditionalists may say cheese does not belong here. Well, they are wrong. Au Gratin potatoes call for cheese while scalloped potatoes do not. The two are often confused. You need a touch of cheese to introduce a sharpness and a flavor in this dish that you can’t get with cream alone. You don’t need much, but you need it.

Cooking. Covering the dish for part of the cooking time allows the potatoes to braise in the cream without drying out the top layer or burning it.

Resting. This is a very important step. This is a dish that needs a solid rest time of 10-15 minutes to let the dish set and cool, so you can enjoy it at its height of texture & flavor.

Potato au gratin

Potato Au Gratin

Course Side Dish
Cuisine French

Ingredients
  

  • 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

Instructions
 

  • 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.

Notes

This can be made in one casserole dish or in individual gratin dishes. 
Keyword potato

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