Oh, a marvelous potato gratin! What could be better, more satisfying, more heart-warming? It’s a side dish, yes, but add a few strips of crisped ham and serve it with a salad, and you’ve got an amazing plat du jour on your hands.
As is, potato gratin is a staple on the French table, referred to simply as “gratin”. It’s a beloved dish for the French, a simple go-to for the home cook and a dish the restaurant chef loves to serve because it attracts like a flower does a bee. Seriously – Gratin on the menu? The lines begin to form.
Potato gratin is often referred to as Gratin Dauphinois, because it is thought to have originated in the 16th century in the southeastern French alps, in the region known as the Dauphiné. Then, the dish was made with ingredients at hand: potatoes, fresh milk, garlic. It is doubtful whether or not salt and pepper were added, for those were rare ingredients, and nutmeg had probably not even been heard of.
Today every cook has her or his own recipe for gratin Dauphinois, though purists agree with me: the best gratin Dauphinois is the simplest. Potatoes, a hint of garlic, milk and cream. If you want to get creative, though, do. Substitute one-third the quantity of potatoes with: Jerusalem artichoke, celery root, even fennel sliced thin. But don’t add cheese – that muddles the recipe and the flavor, making it something else.
The Best Plat du Jour
So what is the best plat du jour for potato gratin? Any one, but I love to serve it alongside butter-drizzled seared steak, a roast chicken or duck, sauteed pork loin, a grilled leg of lamb. Something pure and simple, something that tastes of itself. For despite the humble ingrediens in a potato gratin, you may find it steals the show!
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 cup 250ml whole milk
- 2 cups 500ml crème fraiche
- Fine sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Freshly grated nutmeg
- 2 pounds 1 kg starchy potatoes, such as russet variety, peeled and very thinly sliced
- Flat-leaf parsley sprigs for garnish
- Cut the garlic clove in half and rub the cut sides firmly all over the interior of a medium-sized baking dish.
- Whisk together the milk and the crème fraiche in a large bowl. Season generously with salt, pepper, and as you like with nutmeg. Whisk, then add the potatoes and mix them thoroughly (using your hands – the best tool here).
- Turn the potatoes and cream mixture into the baking dish, making sure to scrape out all of the cream using a rubber spatula.
- Bake the gratin in the center of the oven for 15 minutes. Stir the potatoes gently, then bake for an additional 20 minutes. Stir the vegetables again then bake until the gratin is bubbling and golden on top, another 20 to 35 minutes (up to 15 minutes less for the Yukon Gold potatoes , so check as they cook).
- Remove from the oven and let cool for about 5 minutes before serving, as it is BLISTERING hot!