Friday, February 25, 2011

Gratin Goodness

Classic Potato Gratin

I love the potato.  The French get so many food things right, but especially when they named the potato “pomme de terre” meaning “apple of the earth”. Baked, roasted, sautéed, boiled, fried, mashed, stuffed, or any way you can imagine, they are, on their own, delicious.  As a vehicle for other flavors, they can soar.  Probably very near the top of my list of potato favorites, if not directly on top, is The Gratin.  Literally, the word gratin comes from the French word meaning to scrape.  If you’ve ever been the lucky person serving a gratin, you will know that this means the act of scraping all of the baked on Gruyere cheese goodness from the (traditionally) earthenware dish manufactured for this purpose.  A humble yet luxurious dish, the gratin has only 7 ingredients (not including salt & pepper, which are key).  Each ingredient relies completely on the others, so it is important to use the best quality ingredients available.  I like to use Idaho Potatoes, as they are starchy and turn into the most silky texture when baked with freshly smashed garlic, unsalted European butter, aged Gruyere cheese, fresh heavy cream, whole fresh nutmeg (grated a la minute), sea salt & freshly cracked, fragrant, Tellicherry (from the Telicherry region of Southern India) black pepper.  I have seen many recipes which call for pre cooking the potatoes in milk and other variations, but my desire for ease of preparation, coupled together with conversations I’ve had with chefs in the French countryside, led me to my favorite simplistic version.
As an added incentive, (as if one were needed) your home will smell absolutely heavenly while baking this dish of deliciousness.

Classic Potato Gratin 

·      6 large baking potatoes
·      3 cups grated, good quality Gruyere cheese
·       2 cups heavy cream
·      1 clove of garlic, smashed and peeled
·      2 tablespoons unsalted butter
·      Fresh nutmeg for grating
·      Salt & fresh black pepper

Idaho Potatoes
      Pre heat the oven to 350° f.  Peel the potatoes, and place them in a bowl of cold water to avoid discoloration.  Drain potatoes and dry well and then slice into 1/8" slices, preferably with a mandoline. Place the slices on paper towels to dry thoroughly.

drying slices

garlic and butter rubbed baking dish
      Rub a 9 X 13" baking dish with the garlic clove followed by the butter.  I like to leave the pieces of garlic in the dish, for the perfume and flavor. (I prefer ceramic but used glass for demonstration, often I use a traditional ceramic oval Gratin Dish, but for larger groups the larger rectangular pan works well for cutting neat looking squares) Layer the potatoes, overlapping slightly to cover the bottom of the dish. Season the slices of potato liberally with salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg.

Fresh Nutmeg and grater

seasoned slices layered
      Cover the slices of potato with a layer of the grated Gruyere and repeat the layering process including the seasoning of salt, pepper and nutmeg followed by the cheese until you have 3 - 4 layers, space permitting.

Grated Gruyere Cheese
Heavy Cream
 Pour the cream evenly over the dish.

Cream added
      Bake the Gratin in the preheated oven for approximately 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until bubbly and brown.  Remove the gratin from the oven and allow to rest very loosely covered for 10 - 15 minutes before slicing into squares and serving.  This Gratin is equally as wonderful cooked one day, cooled, refrigerated and reheated slowly and gently the next. 

Side view of cooked Gratin
seriously delicious Gratin

 Voila, dreams of the French countryside!

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