Main-Dish Potato Gratin
An Easy, Decadent Potato Recipe for Home Cooks
Scalloped potatoes trigger many good memories for me, but here's my favorite: I'm sitting with my husband and in-laws in a charming, relaxed restaurant in Paris's Latin Quarter. With understated pride, our server lays out classic dishes: two hearty stews (pot au feu, boeuf bourguignon), steak frites, a lovely sole meuniere. A minute later he returns, with what seems like an extra twinkle in his eye: "Et voila, le gratin."
Potato gratin -- often called potatoes au gratin in the U.S. -- is a dish you'll find at any bistro in France. It is decadent--rich with cream, cheese, or both--and irresistible. "After years of gathering guests around the table," writes Patricia Wells in her excellent Bistro Cooking. "I've realized that potatoes are a sure-fire winner." Asserting that "you can never have too many" gratin recipes, Wells includes 7 in her book, including the one below. It's hearty enough to serve as a main course, with just a simple green salad on the side.
Happily, there are only a few:
1/4 lb. smoked ham, sliced medium
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 lbs. baking potatoes, such as russets
1/2 lb. gruyere cheese
nutmeg--preferably fresh grated, or dried if you don't have it
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1) Preheat the oven to 375F.
2) Prep your ingredients: Peel the potatoes and slice them very thin. Grate the cheese. Cut the ham slices into 1-inch-wide strips.
3) Use 1 tbsp. of the butter to coat the inside of a baking dish, preferably ceramic or porcelain (but glass also works, if necessary).
4) Arrange half the potatoes in an even layer in the dish. Not sure it matters much how you do this, but I find it easiest to go in sort of a spiral.
5) Arrange half of the ham strips evenly over the potatoes. On top of the ham, layer half the cheese. Season to taste with nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
6) Repeat the process with the remaining ingredients: Layer on the rest of your potatoes, then the ham, then the cheese. Season again with nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
7) Cut the remaining 3 tbsp. of butter into bits. Dot the top of your gratin evenly with butter. (I know, I know..."decadent" is an understatement! You can diet tomorrow.)
8) Bake, uncovered, until the gratin is golden, about 50 minutes. Don't overcook (mine sometimes finish in 40-45 minutes...must have a hot oven), or the ham will dry out.
what more do you need?
I love to serve rich, cheesy dishes like this one with just some nice lettuce tossed in vinaigrette. To drink, Wells recommends a chilled red wine, but I don't think you can go too wrong here.
Make your scalloped potatoes sing...
Emile Henry cookware, made for 150 years in a small town in France's Burgundy region, has never failed me. Strong and beautiful, this versatile dish (not just for scalloped potatoes!) can go from freezer to oven and is safe for the dishwasher and microwave. It conducts and retains heat wonderfully and is a snap to clean.
I'm making gratin
for Halloween night.
For some reason, I always seem to crave yummy gruyere dishes for Halloween dinner. When the kids were babies and we needed only to receive trick-or-treaters, we'd have friends or family over for cheese fondue. Later I switched to quiche, with my better half contributing the crust (he's way better at pie dough than I am). This year? I'm making a gratin!
Although it's at its very best when baked immediately after assembly, I tested the recipe out as a make-ahead dish, and it worked just fine. I popped it in the fridge right after assembling, then baked it about 7 hours later. The baking time is just about right for taking the kids out trick-or-treating. We'll come back to a house fragrant with cheese, ham & potatoes. Ahhh...
Have I convinced you to try a gratin? What's your favorite way to make potatoes au gratin?