p1: Tartiflette

The Dish

tartSpring is back upon us, but with a couple snowfalls in March, and my days off set back to culinary-based explorations in local food and home experiments, a need and craving for something more winter-ish came to craving. I still have quite a lot of dishes to work on in my list (I know I know, I had a rough period, I’m getting back into the foodie stuff again now!), including a notable amount of the heavy, soul-satisfying stuff, but it didn’t take too long to narrow my options down to Tartiflette for this occasion. I only had a day to plan this time, so something simple like this Provencial Potato Gratin fit the bill quite perfectly, not to mention I’ve been wanting to do something ooey and cheesy from this list for a good while now.

Originally based on the old potato dish ‘Pela,’ its adjustment into the now-famously-named version of Tartiflette was, if all stories are to be believed, actually a much more recent one. Though as the orginal dish Pela, a simple potato casserole with onions and bacon cooked in a long-handled pan called a ‘pelagic’ (meaning ‘shovel’), the recent twist into tartiflette didn’t occur until the 1980’s! The Union Interprofessional Reblochon, at that time, decided to develop a recipe using their famous cheese so as to promote the product, which they named after the Savoyard/Franco-Provencal word for potato, ‘tartifles/a,’ and apparently it worked. After only thirty years people seemed to have completely forgotten the original dish in favor of this adjusted, cheesy variety; only proof that history and food culture is still being made every day.

Though I wonder if there’s not some twist to the real story in this. Firstly, there’s supposedly an account of the term tartiflette being mentioned in a 1705 book called Le Cuisinier Royal et Bourgeois. Secondly, I find it interesting that every recipe for regular Pela I looked up actually does include the use of reblochon… so either the ‘inclusion’ wasn’t as novel as the Union thought it was, or was SO strong that it’s affect all recent online-added recipes.

Oh, I haven’t gone into the full composition yet. Potatoes, cut thick, with the traditional bacon-onion duo of the French alpine regions (this IS a mountainy-Savoy dish afterall), wine for cooking, cheese, baked until crispy-gooey and served with some sort of pickles on the side. Now, onto the long, intense breakdown I’m sure most of you will skip over (I don’t blame you).

A Word On… 20150323_160832

Potatoes: recipes HAVE varied, from red to brown to mix, sliced thin or kept chunky. I’ve already tried the mix thing with my Gratin Dauphinoise, so thought I’d go for the full potato on this occasion. And as I’ve mentioned (I think) in past scenarios, or at least seen, the red potato seems to be more indicative to French preferences. So I found a bag of nice organic ones at my local co-op (cuz it was on my way home and I was too lazy to go somewhere else for them, yay me?).

Plus I just kept getting a craving on thinking about the recipes that cut it chunky, roasted fully… instead of the super-soft russets. Speaking of chunky, yes that is indeed where I’m going with it; what’s the point of slicing it thin like any other random gratin? We’re making TARTIFLETTE here people, this is MOUNTAIN food, the kind you eat in a cabin during a deep snow. It’s big, chunky, sits in the stomach like a gooey potato brick. And it has BACON. My reasoning is sound this time.

Skins: Now, do we leave the skins on or not? Is it actually an issue? Apparently, I’ve read many recipes, for this and other French potato dishes, that stress using peeled potatoes for service, while many blogger make the noted statement of leaving them on with purpose for the flavor. Which, if I were making any random potato dish (besides super smooth mashers or the crispiest, crunchiest roasts), I fully agree. I love the flavor of the skins.

That said, the true experience with many of these gratins is skin-off before going into the oven. Reasons? Probably to keep the potatoes soft, not having pieces of skin break off and float around (finesse aspect)/visual appeal, refined flavors, better chance of getting that golden crust on top, who knows. Either way, this is where I went.

But that’s not important, as is most of the things I say. What IS important is to make sure to leave the skins on while boiling (and yes, you’ll want to stick with boiling as the main cooking method before the overall bake), peel after. This actually helps the potatoes to retain moisture and other things so they don’t ‘dry out’ after cooking (believe me, I’ve done peeled potatoes before, served simply cut afterwards, they can get all tacky and odd if not done absolutely perfect).

20150323_145253Cheese: Reblochon is of course still the most desired, and apparently easy enough for OTHER bloggers to get their hands on, but one may need to find substitutes… like me.

Those needing this substitute need ask their local cheese shop purveyor about their Washed Rind selection, particularly the soft, runnier varieties with a bit of that pungent nose, similar to Taleggio (though I would NOT go for that cheese. I love it, but not here). They should have at least one or two options from the Alps (ask for cheese from Jura or Savoie) or Burgundy, such as Epoisses, Le Delice de Jura, or St. Soleil. Though I don’t know what reblochon tastes like exactly, I suggest going for a cheese with a lighter pungency, with more of that creamy fresh dairy flavors (I was tempted by that Delice, fit great, but it also has these odd extra grassy and other flavors to it that felt like it wouldn’t mesh how I wanted); but don’t go for a brie, please, that’s more moldy than funk, it’s just not right. Whatever you do though, try to get a whole wheel, the more attractive top the better; you’ll see why in a bit. 20150323_145319

Another note on the cheese focused on how it’s based; there’s a reason to use a whole (small) wheel of it for the dish. Whereas the middle layer of this stacked potato, bacon, and cheese casserole can be sliced or scooped on however, the TOP layer is very often applied in one particular fashion (except by those deviating from the norm, bastards!). Sliced horizontally in half, the whole top of the cheese circle is placed right in the middle of the potatoes, skin up, left to seep down below, the skin getting crusty as the exposed potatoes around it also brown; which is why I got one with such a pretty cross-hatch pattern!

Oh, yeah, one LAST thing; chill the cheese before slicing. My god this thing got so much softer and runnier than I ever imagined it would, looked like an idiot trying to slice it! Ended up having to spoon half of it into the middle layer (since the top is in the very middle, I kept THAT cheese on the outer edges, keeping it even).

Bacon: During some of my brief readings this time, I came to find a post that made mention that proper French ‘lardon’ bacon is actually only cured, not smoked. Whether this is true or not I can’t ascertain 100% at this time (too lazy for extra research), but I couldn’t find any proper substitute in stores, besides maybe trying prosciutto, speck, or other similarly cured pork product (try to find ones based off the SIDE of the pig, not the ham/leg like Serrano). But even those aren’t perfect, since they’re also air-dried. So I just stuck with bacon, the good home-made kind from my local deli. They keep it in slabs so I was able to get a single thick-ass piece! Now I can finally cut them into actual big chunks to get some proper fried pieces like we keep seeing in restaurants… so num. 20150323_164854

Wine: since we’re cooking with it, most white wine will do, however I decided to actually use the same wine I was drinking with the meal that night to keep the flavors clean. 20150324_121156

Garniture: Traditionally, this sort of dish IS served with tart sides, like cornichon and other pickled, maybe some fresh onions or who knows what. Of course, I had some ready, and forgot to serve them once out of the oven…. Durnit. Well I tried some with leftovers the next day, was tasty.

Tartiflette
2 ½ lb Potatoes of Choice
½ lb Slab Bacon
1 medium-sized Onion
1 Tb Butter
½ cup White Wine, French
1 clove Garlic
8oz/1 small wheel Reblochon Cheese or Substitute, chilled
Salt and Pepper

Directions

  1. Separate potatoes into those of similar size, only cutting in half those that one absolutely needs to
  2. Place in pot with generous helping of salt, covering with 1” cold water
  3. Move to stove and heat, covered, until it reaches boil. Turn heat down to low, letting simmer 20-30 minutes or until MOSTLY cooked (a toothpick will go in easily but meet resistance mostly through)20150323_185017
  4. Drain and peel by hand before cutting into large chunks20150323_165341
  5. On the side, dice Bacon and Onion into big cubes20150323_182836
  6. Heat pan to Medi-Hi, add Butter and bacon, sautéing until golden and crispy all over20150323_183348
  7. Transfer bacon, pouring out (and reserving) all but 1-2 Tb of rendered fat. Toss in onions, stirring often while they cook20150323_183558
  8. When soft and golden-brown colored, add Wine, letting simmer 1 minute before taking off heat, stir in bacon20150323_184309
  9. Turn oven to 400F
  10. Crush garlic clove, rubbing it around a casserole dish20150323_185500
  11. Pile half of the potatoes inside, topping with half the bacon-onion-wine mix20150323_185219
  12. Slice cheese horizontally, so one still has two discs, arranging slices or sections of one half as evenly over the first layer as possible. Sprinkle with pepper20150323_190238
  13. Top with the latter half of potatoes, bacon, and onions. Carefully place the whole other circle of cheese directly in the center20150323_191239
  14. Brush the cheese and potatoes with reserved bacon and move into oven
  15. Bake 20-30 minutes, until cheese is melted, the sides bubble, and the potatoes and reblochon ‘skin’ is turning golden20150323_195640
  16. Remove, let sit at least 5-10 minutes
  17. Scoop into big bowl, serve with homemade pickles and other garniture as desired20150323_200139

The Verdict 20150323_200258

So, I’ve been trying to eat better nowadays, mostly based off of portion control and all that (obviously I still eat ‘splurge foods’, like hell I’m keeping myself away from the food I want to eat, just not often), that night in particular I knew I needed to hold back… and I went back to the dish. I mean, for the love of god, it’s baked potatoes, with cheese, and bacon and other goodness, and I’m from MINNESOTA. This is the good stuff, and it’s no wonder it has become so loved as mountain food. And it was really fun having a cliché potato-bacon-cheese dish using something besides cheddar or gruyere; the funkiness and quality of this cheese is what really made it different and stand out in the aching bites. Not to mention the thrill of sneaking myself as much of that crusty skin whenever I got the chance…

That said, there are some notable things that stood out on the not-so-amazing side. First off, as much as I do love red potatoes, and big chunks of starchy deliciousness, I DO wish I had chosen russets instead, or at least done a mix of the two. Waxy is certainly great for good roasts and mashers, but in this use their notable firmness (even when fully cooked) was not what I desired most; maybe if cut smaller, but again I don’t want small pieces in this particular gratin. Secondly, I did love the bacon, finally I got the kind of big caramelized chunks I desire, but I feel the particular strength of the funky cheese I grabbed ended up JUST covering up their flavor; so note, really keep to reblochon or substitutes that are LIGHTLY pungent. Oh, and unlike my recipe suggest, I did NOT wait five minutes after taking from the oven, haha; oh well, a shame for me, not being able to see that stringy cheese, instead getting more of the saucy element. Still nummy though.

Primary Pairing – Southern French/Provence White

The dish may hail from Savoie, and they have some AMAZINGLY fun and refreshing options to go with it, but I only have one bottle of them on my shelf and I’m saving it for Fondue. So then, looking a little further abroad, it’s nice to explore the hotter regions of the south of France. And, if you can find one crafted well enough (stay away from the cheap-cheap ‘bargain wines’), this originally mass-producing region of the country has started putting out some nicely balanced wines that can easily be appreciated in their own ways. 20150323_195844In terms of going with cheesy potato casserole, they’re almost perfect. The warmer climate makes for whites with MUCH bigger bodies than normally found in some of the finer areas, which is a necessity for such a big-bodied, chunky potato dish such as this. Though bacon and cheese are noted elements, their overall effect here isn’t TOO imposing, so finding any white with at least an average quality acidity can work to balance that out. And finally, there’s little need to drink something super deep and complex; it should be tasty, maybe a little fleshy, have some character in the mouth-feel and some strong aspects to stick through the pungent flavors in the food, but this is not a dish to REALLY sit down and think about every little flavor molecule. Drink the wine, eat the food, be happy and nommy as you ignore the snow outside, and you’re good; and that’s what a lot of whites from this region can happily fulfill (like a nice Vinho Verde, only bigger and bolder instead of tart and refreshing).

Some Mulled White Wine might not be out of the question either…

20150323_183645My Bottle: Chateau Miraval 2009 Clara Lua, Coteaux Varois en Provence

Okay, I’ll admit, the empty bottle has already been tossed and I forgot what actual grapes went into this blend! I think Grenache Blanc was one of them, maybe rolle or something else with an r… who knows. What I do know is that I’m glad I grabbed this guy from the shelf as my last-minute go-to. The alcohol content got to 14.5%, high for a white and perfectly balancing the heavy potatoes. It was floral, pear-y, with an almost nutty/yeasty uniqueness in flavor that went absolutely awesome with this hot cheesy, onion-y mess. Sipping found a few nice delights while gulping refreshed and washed down the rich food beautifully, making what to me at least was a great complementary experience. Of course they tasted well in mouth together.

Secondary Pairing – Bourbon

Beer feels too easy (and I already did it with the other Gratin), sake and cider don’t really pull at me in this situation, though of course one could easily find some amazing options to accompany this food in each category. But right now, thinking about eating this guy in deep snow, maybe in a log cabin or something, I simply feel like I want a nice glass of delicious, soul-firing spirit. Something to help digest and break down all that heavy food sitting in the gut, not to mention an intense flavor and alcohol content to cut through the rich, fatty bacon and cheese. So a lot of them will do, now we just pick the kind of booze, and bourbon seems to taunt my palate ever more right now. Just thinking of the intense smoky, toasty barrel and sweet corn flavors matched with the bacon and pungent cheese… and those sorta caramel-oxidative notes from a GOOD aged Bourbon along with the crusty potatoes… I’m not the only one salivating here right? tart1

On second thought, a Marc (French Grappa) from Burgundy could be a really tasty regional match too…

p1: Coquilles St-Jacques

7-SAV150-69_Scallops-750x750The Dish

As fun and interesting it is to delve into realms of history and legend that so many of these classic French preparations have seemed to garner, it’s almost ever more intriguing to find one that has little to say for itself. Thus is my experience with the preparation of Coquille St. Jacques, a term which has been says translates to “Saint James’s Scallops,” deriving an interesting little tale to the origin. The story goes that the holy Saint James, in his travels, saved a night who had fallen into the river; upon emerging, the night was covered in scallop shells (there is also a story of a knight’s horse that fell in and emerged with scallops). As such, Saint James’ emblem became that of the scallop shell, which on its own is a true fact, and thus lending itself to the name of the dish.

Whether these tales are true, or if they really has any forbearance on the dish’s name, is up to debate. What we can say is that Saint Jacques has become the accepted name for a certain French scallop, and that the term “coquille” is culinary used for a number of recipes that are baked or broiled inside a scallop shell, which when cleaned has made a very durable and trusty cooking utensil for hundreds of years (there’s an interesting anecdote to begging poor or monks who would travel with one tied around their neck and use to scoop food). These dishes are oft composed of the main ingredient chopped up and covered in a creamy wine sauce, thickened much like gravy, and then broiled with cheese as-is or on top of a bed of other ingredients. Methods for coquille st-jacques has found the scallops cooked alone or on top of duxelle (a blend of shallots, garlic, and mushroom sautéed into a paste), diced or whole, until golden and bubbly.

A Word On…

Scallops: Here is the question on how one puts this dish together; do we do the classic, rustic coquille which consists of a mass of goeey cheese sauce mixed with chopped up shellfish meat, or do we leave large rounded disks with an elegant garnish to display in a more refined manner, thus highlighting the meaty seafood? If one goes for the former, tiny Bay Scallops are likely your game, much sweeter and more flavor without having to worry about the structure. However, after my few months away from the blog game, I feel like I want to present the more sophisticated style of my first dish in a while; not to mention, if I’m going to cook with a good quality scallop, I want it to be able to shine properly, so bigger Sea Scallops it is.

I buy them fresh from a good distributor, not frozen and definitely not the ‘wet packed’ scallops that many people warn about. To make sure it doesn’t have any of that extra moisture that could ruin its structure when cooking, I pat and let them sit on some paper towels before the poaching. The results… well let’s see.

Of course, die hard recipe reproducers would look to get true St. Jacques Scallops from France; of which I have no clue how to do in the States besides shipping in frozen, so I’ll stick to some decent fresh ones instead.

20141219_214553

Mushrooms: though their inclusion is fully optional, every recipe I’ve found that uses them points almost exclusively to white buttons, which I was want to follow. Giving myself a few extra seconds at the store, in front of the bins, I could not help but think that if this was made in the French countryside, around the Loire, from ingredients on hand, would it have been a ‘white button’ or some available brown-topped, perhaps wild mushroom? Some version of the latter feels more sincere, so at the very least I decided to buy some Criminis to get more flavor in.

20141221_133939Sauce: The sauce used for this is somewhat intriguing compared to other ones I’ve worked with in the past. It’s a roux-thickened recipe, much like with three of the classic mother sauces and gravy, but it uses no stock, no milk as its base, some cream yes but that’s more for fortification at the end (like butter); the liquid component is entirely based on wine that the scallops are poached in before baking. Flavor wise it ends up similar to a classic beurre blanc, but oh what a different texture.

That ramble out of the way, the poaching liquid itself offers another choice to us, as I’ve seen in my searchings: Wine or Vermouth. Many have used either or, or combinations of the two, thus leading us to debate; my own curiosity has me wondering what the vermouth would taste like, and why it’s included, however contrary to that I don’t think I’d want to create an all-vermouth sauce and poaching liquid unless I had some good quality alcohol, as opposed to the terrible mass-produced crap that’s usually in my bar simply be destined for thinning out in cocktails. Thus I settled for an almost equal portioned blend of the two, so that I could add just that little bit of complexity, botanical depth, and richness vermouth contributes. Though, I would suggest that, unlike me, you use a proper WHITE vermouth in your own experiments (sadly we ran out, so red it is).

Cheese: Not too much of a commonality in recipes, I’ve seen people use Swiss, Parmesan, Gruyere, mixes, you name it. Some sprinkle just on top, some melt into the sauce, if not both; which is where I start, as I feel like the sauce should stay a simple gravy of the thickened cooking liquid, only using cream to bolster the texture. Cheese is made to be gratineed over the top, and though there seems to not be anything SPECIFICALLY required, gruyere just seems to fit the bill best, both in its melting properties and the common use in French cuisine where cheese is concerned.

Coquille: Very likely, you probably don’t have a scallop shell you can use for cooking at home. Ramekins work well, though, or any other similar small baking dish that can be stuck in a super-hot oven and broiled with.

Coquilles St-Jacques
4 Tb Butter
3 Shallots, Chopped
4 cloves Garlic, Chopped
1 cup Chopped White Button or Crimini Mushrooms
¼ bunch Parsley
12 Sea Scallops
¾ cup Dry White Wine (French preferred)
½ – ¾ cup Dry White Vermouth
2 Tb Flour
3 Tb Cream
¼ cup Grated Gruyere
Salt and Pepper

Directions

  1. Heat a sauté pan to medium/med-high, tossing in 2 Tb of Butter and 2 of the Shallots.20141221_134934
  2. Cook 1-2 minutes until it begins to soften, adding in the Garlic and chopped Mushrooms.20141221_140736
  3. Heat, stirring often, until browned nicely throughout and broken down. Season with salt, pepper, and most of the Parsley Leaves, minced. Reserve.20141221_142013
  4. Gently prepare your Scallops, slicing carefully in half to produce two thin disks.20141221_143341
  5. In a separate, wide pan, combine the Wine, Vermouth, Parsley Stems, and the rest of the Shallots, heating until just barely at a simmer.20141221_142446
  6. Arrange the scallops in the pan so that the liquid only just covers them (or gets close to the top), letting them sit in the warm but not boiling poaching liquid 2-3 minutes. You may need to flip them halfway through to ensure even cooking.
  7. Remove scallops, reserve on the side, and strain the resulting wine and scallop Stock.20141221_143442
  8. In the pan one cooked mushrooms in, add the rest of the butter with the heat on medium. Once melted, whisk in the Flour.
  9. Let sit on hit, whisking often, until it lightens slightly in color, 1-3 minutes. Slowly pour in the still-warm wine stock, mixing constantly to incorporate.20141221_143742
  10. Let heat for a minute or two until thickened slightly; if notable too thick, add in more wine to thin into a proper sauce. Season salt and pepper, finish with the Cream.
  11. Heat oven to 475F.20141221_171344
  12. Start arranging your ingredients on the Coquille or other ramekin-like serving vessel, starting with a mound of the sautéed mushroom duxelle and some of the sauce.20141221_171738
  13. Carefully layer the poached scallop coins on top in a pleasing array, spooning the rest of the sauce overhead. Garnish with Gruyere and move to the oven.
  14. Roast until the sauce is melty and the top has bruleed to a beautiful golden edge, about 5-15 minutes depending on cooking vessel and other factors.20141221_182958
  15. Remove, garnish with freshly chopped parsley, and serve alongside toasted baguette.

The Verdict

20141221_183344There’s a very intriguing ‘rule’ in French and Italian cooking that states one should never plate seafood with cheese; there are of course exceptions to every rule, but it’s usually seen with subtle manipulations, here most often using only the lightest hints of parmesan to bolster a bit of richness in a white fish or scallop dip. Which is why, when eating, I found this particular dish so intriguing, in light of not only this rule but of what I know of France’s culinary distinctions. Here we’re taking a scallop, an ingredient that needs gentle treatment and is most commonly partnered with delicate flavors so as to highlight its veil of sweetness and easy-to-dismiss flavors of the sea, and completely smothering it in garlicky mushrooms, a thick and tart cream sauce, and the strong European cheddar that is Gruyere.

And the damn thing works. For despite this rich, gut warming bowl of goodness, the scallop’s flavors are never fully covered, and the portions leave its meat in the strong point, allowing us to enjoy its well-cooked texture, the sweetness coming to underlay against the creamy cheese and sauce, with mushrooms dancing in behind to say hello and make our taste buds happy. Though they might not be a requirement, I am happy I went for the version with the duxelle, as well as keeping big pieces of scallop vs chopped, though I’m sure that would have been its own scrumchy delight. It does need to be eaten with bread or something else though, for a complete course, too bad I forgot to get a baguette (had some English muffins though, so it worked out!).

 

20141221_182559Primary Pairing – Gingo Sake

It’s not hard to reason that sake goes very well with fish and seafood, considering the well famed Japanese cuisine. Though one might not think it, considering most sake’s very earth-bound flavors of woods, fungus, and earth mixed with the rice’s sweetness. But when we get into the more aromatic and refined styles of Gingo and Daigingo, where the rice grain has more of its heavier outer layers polished down, we find notably lighter-bodied ‘wines’ with those characteristic flavors of the sea mixed with fruit and floral yeasts. If we were to choose a bottle that was only halfway up this sake totem pole of refinement, mainly Gingos, then we would still hold onto some of those earthy flavors, which in my opinion make it quite the appealing pair to enjoy alongside this medium-lightweight, mushroomy seafood dish.

20141221_180421My Bottle: Sho Chiku Bai’s Junmai Gingo Sake

I’ll admit a noted disappointment on first sip, as I had hoped for it to reveal more flavors of fleshy fruit, or perhaps some zesty aromatics, but nonetheless it shone itself as a proper, standard Junmai Gingo. The ‘weight’ of the drink was a noted step down from regular Junmai sake (which is an interesting thing to taste one next to the other; unlike other drinks, where shifts in style happen more smoothly and gradually, one can very easily feel a drop in aromatic strength and body weight between the different sake styles), and contained the smooth flavors of barley and mushrooms to play with the palette without overpowering the light scallops. The flavors and weights ended up meshing quite nicely, with just a bit of that creamy rice flavor that blended into the creamy white scallop. Overall, much like my last sake pairing with the duck, a surprisingly successful match after opening.

vouvSecondary Pairing – Vouvray

Sticking to the NW region, along the river Loire and close to the sea, I so much want to use a Sancerre or Muscadet, but the body’s just too light and flavors too crisp for my liking in this case. A Vouvray, however, based on the Chenin Blanc, brings a bit more weight to combat the slightly heavier sauce and mushrooms, a bit more of a richer background, while still holding notable acid (as Chenin and Rieslings are like to do) to cut through the cream and brighten the seafood. Not to mention many Vouvray (note I’m sticking with the generic as opposed to choosing a specific style, regional or otherwise) contain a bit of sweetness which I think would combat the saltiness of the cheese and scallops beautifully, if done right of course.

p1: Gratin Dauphinois

The Dish

enhanced-buzz-25038-1386024391-7Gotta love scalloped potatoes; I was going to save this dish for some other time in the future, maybe a rainy day, but I had a day full of absolutely nothing and a week to go until my next dish, this was a simple item on either list that I could whip together.

Overall, the term Gratin actually harkened back to the little fond or crust left in a baking dish after cooking, or that burned piece of cheese and cream at the bottom of a fondue pot. Always the prized piece of a dish, this would be scraped up and snacked with much affection. After some time, this word transferred to certain foods identified by being cooked in a low, wide ceramic pot that would develop an even, thick crusty top.

Though these can be made with practically anything, the epitome of the Gratin world has been and always will be based on the Potato. Gratin Dauphinois is no exception, having originated in the Southeastern Dauphiné region, being known for something quite unique as opposed to when one normally thinks of “gratin.” At the time of creation, thought to be around the 1700’s, cheese was quite the luxury ingredient, at times being used in a form of currency. A very rustic dish, made by those with not as much money to waste on luxuries for the sake of taste, thus excluded the use of the highly-prepared curdled and aged dairy product. As such it was, and still is, only prepared with Cream or Crème Fraiche and various seasonings.

There’s not much more to say about its history besides that; it became somewhat known after being served with Ortolans at a dinner for Dukes or something, but that’s about it. With a dish like this, who really cares? I just wanna dig right into it and forget all about anything else for a while.

A Word On…

Potatoes: It’s hard to say whether or not there’s a properly “traditional” potato to use for this dish, though I’ve found a few recipes that call for “Desiree,” a French Red potato that supposedly has a yellow, creamy center. What I can say is that most good and/or classic version use either only Waxy (red and sorta yellow) varieties or a combination of Waxy and Starch (brown/russet and sorta yellow), with them keeping a great structure after the long baking while still delivering a creamy flavor.017

The one thing you SHOULDN’T do is you ALL Russet/Starchy potatoes; you just end up with a soft, sorta mushy mix of potatoes and cream… which isn’t bad by any means, I’d eat it. But to make it “proper,” stick to the other kinds. For fun, and because the Buzzfeed recipe link did it, I decided to do a combo-strategy for my own, using some leftover Golden potatoes along with the firm, waxy reds.

Milk and Cream: A lot of recipes seem to differ in how much of each to use, and in fact many instances simply claim the dish uses “milk or cream.” Some use all cream, some almost all milk, and everything in between; the only thing I suggest one not do is use all Milk.

For the purposes of this post, I decided to go with a 3:1 ratio of Cream:Milk, recorded in another blog recipe as a certain chef’s claim to be a good quality, traditional mix. Plus, if I’m gonna make this dish, might as well be cream heavy right?

As for overall amount, basically everything I’ve found states the use of 500-600ml (2 ½ cups ish) of Dairy to every Kg/2.2lbs potato.

Cheese: NO! You move on now! Put the cheese down and go back to the cream! Gratin Dauphinoise does NOT use any of that stuff! If you wanna make a cheesy gratin, fine, but you will NOT slander this classic dish by gluing its name to it! The true, traditional recipe for this (and many others online say and follow the same rules, so I’m backed up on this) use only the cream and/or milk for the classic dish. You should too.

The same goes for using Eggs, a no-no.

Of course I’ve seen quite a few posts saying that, though comforting, this creates a somewhat bland potato dish. To which I say, any TRULY “bland” food is made not from the dish but from the cook who didn’t season the food properly like they should have. Don’t be afraid of the Salt and Pepper; I put it in the cream and on the potatoes as I layer them. At the end of the day it makes something that’s full, rich, with that heightening and deepness of milk and cream fats that’s simple, yes, but oh so good.

Cooking: A lot of people, when it comes to this dish that only relies on potatoes, milk, and cream, basically rely on Boiling the potato slices in the dairy for a while before layering and baking it out. This is a great technique and makes a nice, thick, blended combobulation of food, really bringing the starch content out to set the sauce. However, some researching has found that, again, a True dauphinoise gratin ONLY relies on Baking the potatoes in the hot cream. Going for the classic sense as I am, I of course am sticking with this style, of which a few things should be taken note.

First, I’d say it really is important that, in this situation, one should stick with the higher cream content strategy in their dairy (all cream would work). Secondly, since you can’t just set the potatoes directly in the boiling milk right after cutting, one needs to work quickly in the peeling, slicing, and covering in the dairy mix so they don’t start to brown and oxidize. Finally, NO WATER! No rinsing, no soaking, no doing anything of the sort, like many recipes call for to clean or whatever. Though important in many other recipes, we need to reserve as MUCH natural starch as we possibly can, and contact with water just washes off some of this. So be a dear, save it for the cream, it needs it!

A final note, this cooking is usually done for a long time on a lower degrees, about 320F, until fully baked through; supposedly needing to be turned up at the end to get a crisp top, though I found there was no problem of that for me.

Seasonings: I’ve already talked about the salt and pepper, which leaves the issue: what else do we flavor this with?

Well, if you’re trying to stay truly traditional, then nothing, other than garlic. And even that you’re only use to rub the baking pan with. However, there are a couple very classic, non-obtrusive French practices when it comes to making cream-based sauces that I think are acceptable while still keeping the dish “true.” A little seasoning of Nutmeg is always fine and increases depth a bit, and I made the decision to take the rubbing garlic and toss it in the cream while it was heating up, just so it was a bit more present.

And if one doesn’t care too much about precise historical practices, Herbs! Herbs are amazing with gratins like this, whether it’s some fresh-picked thyme between the layers or chopped chives sprinkled on top for serving. Oh, and not to forget Leeks and Green Onions, they’d be pretty good… bacon too… I mean overall this dish is an amazing canvas in which to add almost anything to customize to your own tastes or whatever it’s being eaten with. Of course at that point it’s left true dauphinoise territory and moved into just delicious gratin, but who’d complain about on a Friday night?

Gratin Dauphinoise
3 Garlic cloves
1 7/8 cup Cream
5/8 cup Whole Milk
Salt and Pepper
Freshly Grated Nutmeg
1 kg/ 2.2 lbs mixed Red and Starchy potato

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 320F.013
  2. Cut or crush a clove of Garlic, rubbing it thoroughly around your chosen baking/casserole dish. Thoroughly butter the sides after and turn to your food prep.016
  3. Combine Garlic, Cream, Milk, and a heavy seasoning of Salt, Pepper, and Nutmeg in a sauce pot, turning to medium/med-high heat.015
  4. While this is heating, quickly peel and slice the Potatoes, cutting to a maximum 1/8” thickness, ideally via mandolin or food processor.019
  5. Once the cream has come to a boil, start putting together the gratin. Layer half the potatoes into the dish, no need to make it pretty. Season with more salt, pepper, nutmeg, and pour over half of the hot cream on top, straining as you do so.020
  6. If not already done, finish slicing the rest of the potatoes, arrange on top in a nice layer (if desired), pouring the rest of the hot cream on top until it comes just below the rim of the potatoes.021
  7. Move to oven, baking for about an hour and fifteen minutes, or until the top is golden and crispy.           Note: unless the baking dish is raised notably higher than the potatoes, I suggest placing it on another sheet, as it’ll likely start bubbling over.023
  8. Remove, letting rest and cool at least 5 minutes to settle. Scoop up and serve with desired protein, roasts work good, or grilled shrimp if you wanna go for an “alfredo” feeling.

The Verdict

I can see why this is one of Pepin’s favorite home comfort foods; when done right, it’s just soft, creamy goodness. You almost forget there’s no cheese in here, with how rich and developed that dairy comes through. Those saying that it’s bland are just psychotic, I could eat this kind of food every day and be happy; speaking of which, it really IS good cold the next day, the cream thickens up and sticks to it like a nice, gooey glaze.026

Which does come to my one issue; while cold it’s perfect, I found this particular method of Dauphinoise a bit lacking in the liquid consistency after baking. Or, put simply, the cream didn’t thicken up as much as I had wanted to while cooking. Still tastes damn good and all, but it’s a bit disconcerting seeing all that leftover sauce still in the dish and not sticking like glue to those creamy potatoes.

I think next time I might try the boiling-potatoes-in-cream-first method, see how that turns out. But either way, this guy’s already moved up as one of my new favorite go-to sides for any dinner.025

Primary Pairing – Hefeweizen or Kolsch

024When I’m eating something so rustic, comforting, and soul-satisfying as these potatoes, my first choice of inebriation almost always goes to a good beer. And after a brief consultation with a friend, we both agree that the best to go with this dish are gonna be the Pale, Low-Bitter and lesser Hopped varieties, Ales preferably but Lagers fit right in of course. The top two choices of course are the German Kolsch and Wheaty Hefeweizen (meaning “yeast” and “wheat”); my first pick going to the weissbier for its cloudy, creamy unfiltered body that just goes great with potatoes.

But both styles have a great, full white head, a sharp crispness and BARE hop to cut through the fat, and simpler, subtler flavors that mix and don’t compete with the gratin. Following that style, I would also advocate, and personally crave, a nice cold glass of Pilsner, especially if I was cooking/eating this with plenty of herbs to match the slightly higher hop content.

Of course final decision always depends on what protein one eats this with, if any. My friend also suggested the use of Barleywine (a big, high alcohol and super malty and hoppy creation) as an option to fully compete and contrast the heavy, rich aspect of the dish. And I myself would say it’s a perfect option if having it with a nice Roast Beef.

022My Bottle: Blanche de Bruxelles

‘Cuz I had a bottle in the cupboard, and ‘cuz it’s one of my favorite pale beers! I remember drinking a couple glasses after a day of work in the kitchen, was always one of the most refreshing items on tap.

A Belgian “white beer” that implements wheat along with its barley, this light and cutting drink brought that element of frothy, creamy texture that lifted the rich potatoes perfectly. A slight fullness, that delicate simple flavor of citrus and yeasty fruit that goes so well with cream dishes, and a bit of bitterness to cut any needed fat (and also went well with the charred shrimp I ate it with). It might not have been the “ideal” pairing, not sure if it really was strong enough to truly stand up or not, but it worked well and I had a very enjoyable experience with it, yet again.

Secondary Pairing – Southern/Cotes du Rhone Blanc

Being sorta in the Languedoc/Meditteranean coastal area of France, the white wines close to the Dauphiné haven’t gained much fame, mainly due to the changing developments in the region from mass-produced wine lakes to quality focused vineyards. Varietal choices are still across the board, as are styles and personality.

Not as close but still in the vicinity lies the Southern Rhone, mainly known for their blended Reds, also offering Whites blends made from a mix of the typical area Marsanne, Roussane, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, and various other random grapes. Though, like the reds, overall flavor and balance varies greatly, in the glass they end up generally low key, medium acidic, slightly fatty wines when done well, and simple pitcher wine when not-so-well. Either way, they end up a pretty good option to go with the sorta-heavy, single-note flavors of these soft potatoes, a nicely neutral simple companion or a balanced glass of light florals and heady skin, something that’ll refreshingly cut through and/or fill and lift the palette nicely alongside. I had a really great white from Chateneuf-du-Pape a while back that would have held itself beautifully next to these potatoes.

On a side note, though Red wine certainly isn’t my first choice to eat with this (unless it’s paired with a protein that demands it), I will say that Buzzfeed’s choice of using something from Beaujolais wouldn’t be too bad. I think you’d have to be careful of your choice, since the unique flavors and tannins from the carbonicly macerated Gamay grapes could have really odd interactions with the fat-heavy Cream, but of the French Reds it’d be one of my first choices. Even better, the Beaujolais Blancs made from Chardonnay might yield even more impressive results.