A quarrel rages in France as to what may be the true gratin dauphinois. Egg and cheese are included in the recipes from old cookbooks (too far removed from the sources, according to the purists). Nearly every reputed restaurant has its celebrated gratin dauphinois and each is willing to divulge its recipe, usually incomprehensible and conceived in the interest of mystification (I have eaten potatoes boiled in milk and dryly reheated days later under a salamander in a restaurant whose publicly presented recipe pretends that they should be poached in milk, the milk discarded, covered with heavy cream, and gratinéed in the oven). When one gets rid of the nonsense, there is nothing very mysterious about this dish, suddenly become one of the masterpieces of
The quality of the dish depends on a number of different things (but not only one quality is the right one): The thinness of the potato slices as well as their breadth; the proportions of the dish in which they are cooked; the proportion of milk to cream; the heat at which they are cooked . . . Thickly sliced potatoes piled thickly into a deep dish, moistened only with milk, and cooked in a slow oven for 2 hours are neither less authentically gratin dauphinois nor less good (although a totally other experience) than paper-thin slices spread thinly in a wide and shallow dish, richly endowed with cream and baked in a hot oven for less than half the time . . . The most important factor remains the quality of the potato and it should not be mealy.
Earthenware will take the garlic better than other materials. Rub a large gratin dish with garlic (or, which is easier and more effective, put the peeled cloves through a garlic press, rubbing the purée and juices all over the sides and bottom of the dish and discarding any solid debris that remains), leave for a few minutes until the garlic juice has completely dried and is no longer tacky to the touch, butter the dish liberally, and pack in the potatoes in lightly salted layers. Pour over enough milk to just cover the potatoes, bring the liquid to a boil on top of the stove (using an asbestos pad to protect earthenware from the direct flame), dribble a thin layer of cream over the surface, distribute thin shavings of butter, and bake in a 375° to 400° oven for about 45 to 50 minutes or until the liquid has been nearly completely absorbed, the potatoes give no resistance to a knife point, and a richly colored skin has formed on the surface.
Copyright © 1974 by Richard Olney. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.