French Potato Gratin Recipe

9 April 2012

Savoring the weekend

I hope that you’ve had a wonderful weekend with many lingering moments. We are savoring friends and family, holiday festivities,  the first flowers of Spring and … the last morsels of left overs.

One dish that didn’t see the morning sun after a weekend dinner, was this knock out recipe for French Potato Gratin.  Honestly: it’s knock out. My French husband loves a perfect Potato Gratin and through out the years, I have sliced with precision and browned to perfection, but had always come up short with a curdled sauce or a just-not-quite-right, sauce. A few years ago, I found an article that explained why.  It’s divine perfection and worth following to the a “t.”

It’s modern, right to skip cream? I’ve never been able to go through with using full cream. I always end up substituting “just half” half/half or whole milk, etc. Are you the same? Here’s the trick: substituting regular milk or even half and half, will always produce a curdled sauce because “when a milk product is cooked with an acid (potatoes are quite acid), it can curdle unless the butterfat content is 25% or higher;” I gave this recipe a try and was reformed.  The other trick it to par-cook the potatoes. The difference is from OK to a restaurant quality dish. Once and a while, you just have to live a little and if you use this recipe you, too, can feel like a French chef. Bon appétit!

French Potato Gratin:

2 lb. Baked Potatoes (The recipe called for Yukon Gold, which claims to impart a nuttiness, but we don’t have these in Sweden. A testimony to this recipe: it’s even wonderful with a Nordic Potato)
3 cups whipping or heavy cream
1 tsp. Salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Generous pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
3/4 cup finely shredded Gruyère, Emmental, or Comté

Heat the oven to 400°F.  Cut the potatoes into 1/8-inch slices (no thicker). It’s very, very, important to slice these as evenly as possible for even cooking and consistency. If you have a mandoline, this is the perfect place to put it to use.

This is the part I had never done before. Rather than going directly to baking, it’s helps to par-cook the potatoes. Put the potatoes in a large heavy-based saucepan and add the cream, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and garlic. Cook the mixture over medium-high heat until the cream is boiling, stirring occasionally (very gently with a rubber spatula so you don’t break up the slices).

When the cream boils, pour the mixture into a 2-1/2- or 3-qt. baking dish. If you don’t want a tender but garlicky surprise mouthful, remove and discard the garlic cloves. Shake the dish a bit to let the slices settle and then sprinkle the surface with the cheese.

Bake in the hot oven until the top is deep golden brown, the cream has thickened, and the potatoes are extremely tender when pierced with a knife, about 40 minutes. Don’t worry if the dish looks too liquidy at this point; it will set up as it cools a bit. Another key: Before serving, let the potatoes cool until they’re very warm but not hot (at least 15 minutes) or serve them at room temperature. Not only will you not burn the roof of your mouth, but it adds to the creaminess.

 Recipe adapted from Fine Cooking: French Potato Gratin.

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