Gratin, Gratiner

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

gratin, gratiner two French terms, noun and verb respectively, which have entered the international culinary vocabulary, as has the expression au gratin.

Originally, back in the 16th century or beyond, the noun referred to that part of a cooked dish which stuck to the pot or pan and had to be scraped (gratté) off if it was not to be wasted. Since the 19th century the meaning has changed to the effect deliberately created by cooks when they cook a dish so that it has a crisply baked top. This is often achieved by strewing grated cheese or breadcrumbs on top, and the phrase ‘au gratin’ is often taken to mean ‘with grated cheese’, although the gratin effect can be produced without adding anything on top; as Ayto (1993) points out, the gratin dauphinois is correctly made of sliced potatoes baked in cream with no added topping. The gratin effect can be applied to a dish under the grill, or uncovered in a hot oven, or by using a salamander thereby giving it a crust. Either this crust or the dish as a whole may be called ‘gratin’.