Gratin facile (bien sur)
So simple even a dipsomaniac could make it.
Over the course of my life I have met only one person who actively dislikes potato gratin; unfortunately it is my daughter. As a result, I generally reserve this dish for company or special occasions so as to avoid seeing it pushed away, untouched, with a moue of distaste. Of course it’s a mercy, too, as I could eat the stuff three meals a day, pausing only to check on my order upgrade at the Scooter Store or to mainline yet more Lipitor.
I mean really, it’s potatoes, cream and cheese. What’s not to like?
So as I was saying, over the years I’ve tried lots of different approaches, which have yielded mixed results. In truth there are as many recipes for this as there are cooks. But here’s mine, which is generally foolproof and requires the least amount of work and clean up of any recipe I have tried.
A note before you begin: There is no consensus on the best type of spud to use here. Some recipes call for russet potatoes (too dry — I use them only for baking); others specify Yukon Gold (yuck, too sweet); but I like a good old fashioned red potato. They’re not too sweet, have a nice texture and, best of all, don’t have to be peeled. I hate to peel potatoes, and when you leave the skins on, they add a nice touch of color to the dish, in addition to some fiber. And really, who can’t use more fiber?
Here’s what you do:
- Set your oven to 350 degrees.
- Butter a casserole dish.
- Wash your potatoes to remove any dirt or black stuff from the skins.
- Slice up as many potatoes as you want to cook (let’s say two pounds for this recipe). Make them about 1/8 inch thick. Use a mandoline if you must, but I never do. It’s just one more goddamned thing to keep track of, and I don’t even have one. At least I don’t think I do.
- Thinly slice half an onion.
- Put the potatoes and onions in a big saucepan, add salt (go easy, the Gruyere you’ll be using is salty) and pepper to taste, and cover them with a mix of milk and cream, I usually use about a 1.5 cups of half and half and about a cup of 2% milk, but sometimes I throw in a little heavy cream, too. Depends how extravagant I’m feeling and/or how dire the fit on my pants is at the moment. Some people add a pinch of nutmeg, but I don’t. Doesn’t appeal. You do as you like.
- Bring the potatoes to a boil and simmer until they’re nearly cooked, but not quite. It won’t take long, so keep an eye on them.
- While the potatoes are cooking, grate about 8 ounces of Gruyere cheese.
- When the potatoes are almost done, lift them (and the onions) out of the pan with a slotted spoon and arrange them in the buttered baking dish. Push down a little to flatten them.
- Return the milk to the stove and add most of the cheese. Cook until the cheese melts and you have a sauce. (The starch from the potatoes will have leeched into the milk during boiling and it acts as a thickener, so you don’t need flour or a roux.)
- Pour the sauce over the potatoes and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.
- Bake uncovered for about an hour and let sit for at least ten minutes before serving.
That’s really all there is to it, which is why I am still marveling over the Top Chef episode where Whitney got thrown off for serving an undercooked potato gratin. I mean really, I can make this and I’m half lit most of the time.