Thursday, July 22, 2010

Gratin Dauphinois

Bunburying allows you to share the pleasures of the table with your society of choice. When hosting company in your home, you need a menu. Creating a menu starts with a series of questions: What ingredients are in season? What is the weather? What is the weight of each dish? How will each dish compliment the others? Perhaps nothing pairs better with a roast chicken or leg of lamb than a gratin dauphinois. This classic gratin is easy to assemble and bake. It is a delicious comfort food.
What makes gratin dauphinois so good? Potatoes and cream. France’s Dauphiné region is famous for its butter, cream, milk and cheese. The culinary encyclopedia Larousse Gastronomique describes à la dauphinoise as a cooking method where “potatoes are cut into taillons (round slices) and placed with fresh cream in a gratin dish which has been rubbed with garlic and buttered.” From this base the variations (and disagreements) begin. Nutmeg is a common addition. Using cheese, such as a Swiss Gruyére or French Gruyére-style cheese is a subject of heated debate. You will find variations containing ingredients as diverse as thyme and curry powder.
I was drawn to the following recipe from Saveur, No. 53, for two reasons: it hews to the classic recipe and it bakes at 400°F. The first reason is a matter of preference, the second of convenience. I only have one oven and I look for dishes that I can bake together. A number of my favorite main dishes cook at 400°F, including Paul Bertolli’s Roast Chicken and an outstanding Roasted Fillet of Beef with Black Pepper. This gratin dauphinois perfectly compliments both.
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
  • 6 large russet potatoes, peeled
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Freshly granted nutmeg
  • 1 cup crème fraîche

Preheat oven to 400°F. Bring the milk and heavy cream just to a boil in a pot over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, grease a large baking dish with 1 tbsp. butter and scatter minced garlic over bottom. Thinly slice the potatoes. Arrange layers of slightly overlapping potato slices in dish, seasoning each layer with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Spread crème fraîche over potatoes, then pour hot milk-cream mixture over potatoes and dot with 3 tbsp. butter. Bake until brown and bubbling, about 1 hour. Serves 8.

Some final thoughts. A mandolin is a helpful tool that speeds the preparation of this dish. And I found that choosing a slightly deeper baking dish helps to prevent the gratin from bubbling over and making an impressive, smoky mess in your oven.