We continue our series on French classics with this famous potato dish. As with most of the French classics, you can find a good recipe for Gratin Dauphinois (pronounced gra-tan’ doe-fee-nwa’) in Julia Child’s “The Art of French Cooking” (p. 523).
The Bravado chef must have a “go to” potato recipe. When the chips are down, you have to have something that is guaranteed. This recipe fills the bill. Make it once and you will be quickly enchanted by this magical preparation. It leaves the wannabes – the “scalloped potatoes” commonly found in the U.S. and UK – behind in the dust. Just as every Italian cook can make pasta e fagioli, every French cook has his or her own special version of Gratin Dauphinois. Feel free to make your own additions – slices of red peppers is one good choice. Some even add anchovies.
History: This dish originated in and got its name from the Dauphine district of southeastern France. This is a largely mountainous area and famous of skiing. Grenoble is largest city. This area is a producer of Emmental cheese (commonly called Swiss cheese), which is used in the recipe. The bubbles in this type of cheese are due to CO2 gas that is allowed to remain in the cheese during processing – in a sense an intended defect.
The ingredients are very simple: potatoes, garlic, butter, salt, pepper, cheese, and milk. It only takes about 20-30 minutes to prepare and 20-30 minutes to cook. This dish is a great opportunity to cook with your guests. When they arrive, have them help you with the potatoes. They can cut them into 1/8” slices and you can gently scold them if slices are too thick. Have them help arrange the potatoes in the baking dish, put on the cheese and butter and generally participate. This has the amazing effect of making the final dish taste twice as good to them.
Prep Tip: If your guests are too busy drinking wine, this is a great opportunity to use a mandolin to slice the potatoes and wow the crowd. You can get very uniform thickness and the slicing will only take about 60 seconds. If you don’t have a mandolin, check out the very efficient and inexpensive model by Progressive International – the HGT-11 Folding Mandolin Slicer – about $18 at Amazon. Wal-Mart or Target. It has separate inserts for thin or thick slices and is easy to use. Get one of these babies and you will be using it all of the time. (We recommended this as one of the top five Christmas or Hanukkah gifts.)
The recipe below assumes that you are having a dinner party because you are a true Bravado Chef. Thus, we suggest a rectangular glass baking dish about 8’x14”. We need something with some surface area and this is perfect. This is not one of those 4″ thick scalloped potato things. This dish is thin and sexy. The key is to have only two layers of potatoes and cheese, with a nicely browned crusty top. Since there are only two layers, it cooks relatively quickly. Make sure the oven rack is set up relatively high. This helps brown the top and also allows you to “zap” the top with the broiler if needed.
For a smaller portion meant only for you and someone special, reduce the recipe in half and bake in a ceramic or glass pie dish. For a real comfort food delight, serve with meatloaf. By the way, women often go weak in the knees at the mere sight of this dish coming out of the oven. Don’t forget the Pinot Noir.
Time Required: 1 hour
Level of Difficulty: 4.0
3 lbs. of new, red, fingerling or Yukon gold potatoes, peeled, sliced 1/8” thick. (You can leave the skin on the potatoes if you like.)
1 clove of garlic, cut in half
6 tbsp. butter, sliced into thin pads
1-1/2 cups of grated Emmental cheese
1-1/2 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
1-1/2 cup milk
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- Rub the baking dish with the cut clove of garlic and grease with butter.
- Dry the potatoes with paper towel and spread half on the bottom of the baking dish. Add half of the butter pads, cheese, salt and pepper.
- Add the second layer of potatoes and the remaining butter, cheese and salt.
- Bring the milk to a boil and pour over the top.
- Put the dish in the oven for 25-30 minutes until well browned on top. Let cool for about 10 minutes before serving.
Bravado Update: April 2, 2012
Forget hash browns, American fries or any other potato for breakfast. Take your leftover Gratin Dauphinois, cut them into squares and save in the refrigerator or freezer. When you feel like have the “big breakfast”, you just plop the Dauphinois squares into a skillet with a little olive oil and heat them up over medium heat – about 5 minutes on each side. If frozen, defrost in the microwave.