Gratin Dauphinois

Simple is best in the kitchen, especially a busy home kitchen, with life, family, world crises and whatnot a constant maelstrom. In the winter, that means comfort food, and with next week’s forecast calling for single digit temperatures, high winds, and snow, something rib-sticking is on my mind. We’re finishing up the last of 2019’s excellent local beef with a lovely brisket, and that requires an inspired side dish. This is where a classic French gratin dauphinois comes into play.

I like cooking aphorisms that make sense. I’ve got a small handful of them that I use when something in the kitchen frustrates me. This happened the other day, and the mantra I turned to was this – Whenever you feel moved to cook simply, do so. A dauphinois is a perfect example of that concept – good potatoes and dairy with seasoning, cooked low and slow – it really doesn’t get any better.

You’ve certainly made something like a gratin dauphinois – scalloped potatoes, for instance. Like Pommes Anna, dauphinois is French cooking at its best – simple, rustic, regional fare that strikes the bullseye. Any and every culture that has dairy and potatoes in their quiver has combined them in myriad ways. Of course all that glorious French cheese starts with great milk, a thing we’re also blessed with here.

Gratin dauphinois is potatoes, milk, cream, a soured cream of some sort, butter, garlic, a bit of nutmeg, salt, and a little cheese on top – you don’t want more than that, ‘cause if you do, it’s literally another dish altogether, (and not quite comme il faut, oui?) What you’ll end up with is super tender potatoes in a distinctly garlic infused cream sauce – c’est magnifique. There are many variants of the dish, but the all important roots are the same – good, local ingredients, simply treated.

In this culinary iteration, ‘dauphinois’ refers to the region, roughly 550 km southeast of Paris, in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. Most locals still refer to the area as the Dauphiné or Dauphiné Viennois, even though the modern political iteration is broken up into three smaller departments. Back in the 1200s it was a sovereign country called Albon – The Count from thereabouts had a dolphin on his coat of arms and was nicknamed le Dauphin – and there ya go. Tucked between national parks and mountains south of Lyon and north of Grenoble, it is a stunningly lovely area. Oh, and they grow and eat a variety of potatoes in the Dauphiné, too.

What this dish wants is what we here in the states generically call a baker – a floury, relatively soft variety that will readily soak up all that dairy and garlic. Over there, popular varieties might be an Agatha, Marabel, Mona Lisa, or Caesar – Here, a good old Russet, or pretty much anything else labeled as a baking variety will do just fine – Maybe, sooner than later, we Yankees will get to the point of having varietal potato choices again.

They also make excellent cheese in the dauphiné, naturellement. Reblochon, Saint Marcelin, and Beaufort cheeses all come from here. While the first two varieties are soft, Beaufort is a cow’s milk cheese from the alpine Gruyère family, a yellowish, somewhat firm cheese with a grassy nose and a distinct gruyère tang – and it melts really well, hint, hint. Over here, any good gruyère would certainly do for a topping cheese.

The cooking steps you’ll use are what makes a gratin dauphinois truly unique. Raw potatoes are poached in milk and garlic, then very gently steeped in cream and seasonings, before a final bake. Some swear by slicing the potatoes very thin, rubbing a shallow baking dish with butter and garlic, and then popping everything into the oven for a low and slow bake. You can certainly do that, but I believe the method I’ll share here make a superior dish.

Urban Gratin Dauphinois

2-3 Baking Potatoes

3 Cups Whole Milk

2 Cups Heavy Cream

1 Cup Crema (yes crema, because it’s far closer to crème friache than sour cream, and readily available these days)

1/2 Cup Gruyère Cheese

2 fat cloves fresh Garlic

1 Tablespoon Unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt

1/2 teaspoon ground White Pepper

2 finger pinch ground Nutmeg

Rinse potatoes and slice to 1/4” thickness, preferably on a mandoline. If you don’t have one, take your time and make your slices as even as you can – that helps the dish cook evenly quite a bit.

Leave the sliced potatoes submerged in a bowl of ice cold water while you finish prep.

Smash, peel, and end trim garlic.

Rub a baking dish in the 9” x 12” range with the smashed garlic, then set garlic aside.

Rub the dish evenly with the butter.

Grate the cheese.

Combine cream, crema, salt, pepper, and nutmeg in an adequately sized mixing bowl and whisk to incorporate.

Add milk, smashed garlic and the potatoes to a large sauce pan over medium heat.

When the mixture begins to simmer, reduce the heat to just maintain that.

Simmer potatoes for 12-15 minutes, until they just turn fork tender.

When they’re there, remove them from heat and carefully pour off the milk – Leave the potatoes and garlic in the pan.

Preheat oven to 350° F and set a rack in a middle position.

Add the cream, crema and seasoning blend to the hot potatoes.

Put the sauce pan on a burner over medium low heat.

Let the pan heat gradually through – you don’t want a simmer here, just a slow, even heat. If the pan starts to simmer, reduce the heat.

Let the mixture steep for 10 to 15 minutes, until the potatoes are fully fork tender, but not falling apart.

Carefully layer the potatoes into the baking dish.

Pour the hot cream blend over the potatoes, then garnish with the grated cheese.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the top layer of spuds is golden brown, and most if not all of the cream mixture has been absorbed.

Serve piping hot.

Pommes Anna

I love potatoes, and you should too. This fancy sounding dish is actually simple as simple can be, the sign of a truly wonderful, timeless dish. Great with breakfast, brunch or dinner, the minimalist approach lets the flavor of the spuds shine. Yukon Golds are perfect for Anna; they crisp up beautifully and have that to die for creamy center we all love.

 

In our take on this recipe, we use Sel de mer for a truly French salt flavor note, and grains of paradise for pepper influence at its most elegant level. The cast iron adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the flavor as well.

Trust us, do it just like this, and then you can try your own variants. Don’t add anything else to Anna, just vary the kinds of salt and pepper used; you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the notable differences in each.

Build this recipe in the exact order I’ve shown here; you really need to minimize the time the potatoes go from sliced, to ice water, to oven in order to allow them to maintain their flavors without oxidizing.

6-8 Yukon Gold Potatoes
4 Ounces fresh, unsalted Butter
1 teaspoon Sel de Mer
Fresh ground Grains of Paradise

Rinse and peel the potatoes. Using a food processor fitted with the slicing blade or a mandoline, slice them very thin, (About 1/8″is perfect), transferring them as they are sliced to a large bowl of ice cold water.

Melt butter in a small sauce pan and remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 425° F.

Drain the slices and pat them dry between paper towels.

Generously brush the bottom and side of a 9″ or 10″ cast iron skillet with half a tablespoon of the butter, using a basting brush.

Arrange the slices in layers, overlapping each slice slightly; brush each layer with butter, a sprinkle of sea salt and a few twists of grains of paradise.

Cover the layered potato slices with parchment and gently but firmly press down on the assembled potato cake.

Bake on the middle rack for 30 minutes.

Remove the parchment and continue baking for another 25 to 30 minutes, until the slices are tender and golden brown.

Remove from oven and turn the Anna onto a cutting board and cut it into 4 to 8 wedges.

Serve with crème fraîche and freshly made scrambled eggs for a real treat.

Spuds Three Ways

Ah, potatoes;
Do we ever get tired of them? Counting all the ways they’re enjoyed for all three daily meals, I’d say not.
Maybe you’re stuck in a rut for variety, though, and need a little push? I got yer back on this. Here’s a delicious trio to try, one over the top, one pretty healthy, and one in between.

 

Twice Baked

4 large Russet Potatoes
1 Cup heavy Cream
1/2 Cup Sour Cream
1 Cup Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese
4 ounces Butter
4 strips thick cut Bacon
4 Green Onions
Sea Salt & fresh ground Pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Dash of Tabasco

Preheat oven to 325° F

Rinse your spuds and pat dry with a clean towel.

Coat whole spuds with olive oil by hand, place in a glass baking dish. Season the skins evenly with salt and pepper.

Slide the spuds into the oven and bake for about an hour, until the spuds are fork tender.

Fry bacon, dry on paper towels and chop to a 1/4″ dice.

Rinse, strip roots and any nasty stuff from green onions, and chop those to a 1/4″ dice.

Grate cheddar cheese.

When the spuds are ready, pull them out of the oven and let them cool just long enough to handle with a clean towel, (in other words, still quite hot).

Reduce oven heat to 250° F.

Cut the spuds into lengthwise halves, then carefully scoop the guts into a mixing bowl, keeping the skins intact.

Add cream, sour cream, half the cheese, bacon, onions and butter to spuds and blend thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Refill the skins with the spud mixture, top with the remaining cheese and slide those guys back into the oven; bake for another 15 to 20 minutes.

Serve hot. Great by themselves, or with a nice salad. Pair with a nice Fumè or Dry Reisling.

 

Roasted

8 – 10 small potatoes, (try a red, white and blue variety)
12 Sweet Onion
1-2 cloves Garlic
1 small sweet Pepper, (red, yellow or orange as you please)
2″ sprig Rosemary
1/2 teaspoon Thyme
Sea Salt and fresh cracked Pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Preheat oven to 325° F.

Rinse and field strip onion, garlic and pepper, (in case you’re new here, ‘field strip’ means remove outer skin, cores, seeds and membranes, as needed.)
Rough chop onion and pepper into about 1″ pieces, quarter the garlic cloves.

Rinse, pat dry, and halve potatoes.

Toss spuds and veggies into a large mixing bowl. Add a couple tablespoons of EVOO, ( Extra Virgin Olive Oil), and toss to incorporate. Strip leaves from rosemary and add to bowl with thyme, salt and pepper. Toss to blend.

Throw everybody into a glass baking dish, and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until potatoes are fork tender.

These are a great side for broiled fish, roasted game or bird.

 

Latkes, (AKA, best potato pancakes ever)

5 medium Russet Potatoes
2 medium Sweet Onions
3 medium Eggs
1/4 to 3/4 Cup Flour
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground Black Pepper
1/2 to 3/4 Cup Oil

For the flour, unbleached all purpose is fine, but try whole wheat pastry as well, it’s very nice indeed.

For the oil, stick to Sunflower, Canola, or Corn; they won’t add any heavy flavor notes to the latkes. And speaking of oil, oil temperature is critical to good results when frying; oil maintained at 350° F will ensure nice light, crispy results that don’t taste and feel soggy. Use a candy thermometer to track oil temperature, and always add foods to be fried sparingly to allow the temperature to stay where it needs to be.

Peel your spuds and toss them into a large mixing bowl filled with enough ice water to completely submerge them.

Skin and trim ends from onions. Toss them into the ice water with the spuds.

Add oil to a frying pan over medium high heat; you’ll want about 1/4″ of oil or so. Have your thermometer handy for gauging oil temp.

Drain your spuds and onions and pat dry with a clean paper towel.

Grate the potatoes and onions with the finer side of a hand grater, or use a food processor or blender if you prefer. The hand method gives the best results for my mind. You want a nice, consistent size and blend of spuds and onions.

Check your oil and adjust heat so you’re sitting right at 350° F.

Place a platter lined with paper towels in your oven and preheat to Warm.

Toss the spud and onion blend into a colander lined with paper towels and gently squash the mix to remove excess water.

Dry off that large mixing bowl and toss your spud/onion blend in.

Lightly beat the eggs by hand and add them to the spuds and onions, then add the salt and pepper.

Add flour 1/4 cup at a time until the mixture holds together on its own, like a chunky pancake batter.

Fill a large soup spoon with a heaping hunk ‘o batter. Slip that puppy into the hot oil and gently squash it down into a cake. Fry one side for approximately 3-5 minutes, until golden brown, then and fry the other side for another 2 to 3 minutes. Look for that nice golden brown on both sides.

Now slide those little golden beauties onto the paper towel covered platter in the oven and keep fryin’. Add a little more oil if needed and watch that oil temp.

Serve nice and hot with the applesauce and a little dish of sour cream, crèma or crème fraîche. Latkes deserve to be a meal and they won’t disappoint; pair with a local sparkler or hard cider.