Potato Gratin Dauphinois

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Just as every Provençal cook has his or her own way of preparing bouillabaisse, so will every Dauphiné home cook have his or her version of this most famous of all French potato gratins. On the website www.gratindauphinois.com, there are more than two hundred recipes deemed acceptable to the residents of the Rhône-Alpes region of France where Dauphiné is located.

In my version, thinly sliced potatoes are bathed in an egg-enriched cream and then piled into a gratin dish. A tip I learned from the website: Bake the gratin, let it stand for at least fifteen minutes, and then reheat it before serving. The second heating makes the gratin taste even better.

Ingredients

  • 1 garlic clove, halved
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • cups whole milk or half-and-half
  • cups heavy cream
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup shredded Emmenthaler, Gruyère, or Comté cheese (about ounces)
  • teaspoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, thinly sliced, rinsed, and patted dry

Preferred Clay Pot

A 9- × 12-inch gratin or shallow baking dish (10- to 12-cup capacity)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Rub the inside of the gratin with the garlic clove. Use 1 tablespoon of the butter to grease the dish.
  2. Heat the milk and ¾ of the cream in a large conventional saucepan until bubbles just begin to appear around the edge of the pan.
  3. In a medium bowl, beat the egg lightly. Gradually whisk in the hot creamy milk in a thin stream to temper the egg. Add ¾ cup of the cheese, return to the saucepan, and cook over medium heat, stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes to melt the cheese. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
  4. Add the potato slices to the sauce and stir to coat. Transfer to the buttered gratin and spread out in an even layer. Sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup cheese on top and dot with the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Set in the oven. Raise the heat to 400°F and bake for 1 hour.
  5. Transfer the gratin to a wooden surface or folded towel to prevent cracking; let cool for 15 minutes. Loosen the sides of the gratin with a flat knife and, brush the top of the gratin with the remaining ¾ cup heavy cream. Return the baking dish to the oven to bake for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the gratin finish browning in the receding heat for 30 minutes longer.

Gratin Dauphinois in the Style of the French Alps

Some cooks, particularly in the Vercors near the Drôme in eastern France, make this dish differently. There the potatoes are simmered in milk—with no cream—until they are just tender but still quite firm a day in advance. They are then left to soak in the hot milk overnight. The next day the milk is drained off and the potatoes are arranged in a gratin dish, covered with cheese and butter, and baked quickly in a hot oven until golden brown.

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