Gotta 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.
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?
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
- Preheat oven to 320F.
- 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.
- Combine Garlic, Cream, Milk, and a heavy seasoning of Salt, Pepper, and Nutmeg in a sauce pot, turning to medium/med-high heat.
- While this is heating, quickly peel and slice the Potatoes, cutting to a maximum 1/8” thickness, ideally via mandolin or food processor.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
Primary Pairing – Hefeweizen or Kolsch
When 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.
‘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.