Potatoes Gratin

Savory Recipes, Winter • 6 Jan 2009

Potatoes are one of those versatile foods that apply to any season. In summer, potato salad is served cold, coated in a thin layer of crisp mayo or oil and livened up with herbs. In the cooler weather, potatoes beckon to be baked or roasted in their little fall jackets, perfect for a hearty, warming snack. In winter, however, I want something meatier, something heavier, richer and creamier. I want 1000 calorie potatoes! And nothing fits the bill better than potatoes au gratin.

Over the past few years, I have been on an aggressive hunt for a life-changing au gratin recipe. I’ve cooked through the steakhouse cookbooks, the grill and grill accompaniment cookbooks, a few classic cookbooks, an “all things potato” cookbook and just about everything in between. After undertaking dozens of recipes, I was left cold, unsatisfied and carbo-loaded.

With a little help from famed chef Alice Waters’ cookbook “The Art of Simple Food,” I found enough inspiration to create the perfect gratin. Chef Waters’ recipe is incredibly simple, bare-bones and even somewhat healthy: thinly sliced potatoes baked, 3 layers deep, with salt, pepper and milk. It is her post-recipe suggestions that bring the everyday au gratin to heightened levels. She recommends rubbing the pan with garlic to ramp up the flavor, or adding a dash of cheese toward the end of baking to create a flavorful, crispy top layer.

I went full throttle with the casserole, 4 potatoes sliced paper-thin, the layers sprinkled with salt, pepper and cayenne, slathered in a caloric mixture of half & half and heavy cream, a layer of thinly sliced garlic on the bottom, baked off and topped with a crispy, crunchy layer of gruyere. This, my friends, is the ultimate au gratin, garlic flavor infused in every bite, the top browned and crunchy, the bottom golden, the layers perfectly tender, gooey and velvety.

Potatoes Gratin

2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 potatoes, thinly sliced with a mandolin, about 1/16 inch thick
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
Cayenne to taste
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup half & half
Greyere for sprinkling, grated

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rub a 9×12 inch baking dish with butter until well coated. Layer the bottom of the buttered dish with the sliced garlic.

2. Make a layer of potato slices on top of the garlic, overlapping them slightly. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and cayenne. Continue to layer the potatoes, seasoning each layer to taste, until the potatoes are used up or until you make 3 layers.

3. Pour cream and half & half over the potatoes. Bake potatoes for about 1 hour total. Halfway through the baking, take the gratin dish out of the oven and press the potatoes flat with a spatula to keep the top moist. Sprinkle gruyere over top of potatoes for the last 15 minutes of baking. The gratin is done when the potatoes are soft and the top is golden brown.

Yield: 4 servings.

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