Potato Gratin

There is something so luxurious and versatile about a classic potato gratin. Made the traditional way, it is certainly not a side dish for dieters of any kind, but there’s something about the way the potatoes melt into the cream but stay in distinct slices, something to the delicate hint of garlic, nutmeg and thyme and something about the salty Parmesan cheese crust on top that makes it fit for any 5-star restaurant.

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Its glamorous reputation as the side dish of choice at expensive steak houses is rather ironic, since the ingredients for potato gratin are certainly pretty basic and there’s not a lot of culinary technique and skill needed to make it. As a result, potato gratin is a dish that can suit any occasion – the expensive steakhouse on a Saturday night.. or your rustic kitchen table on a Wednesday evening with the family.

Ingredients for potato gratin on a wooden cutting board - potatoes, parmesan cheese, nutmeg - and a mandolin.

Potato gratin is also known in France as Pommes Dauphinoise, named after the Dauphiné region of France, which is known for gratin dishes of all kinds. We often think of gratin dishes as having a lot of cheese on top, browned under a broiler, but in actuality there is no cheese in classic Pommes Dauphinoise. The potatoes and cream bake in the oven and a light crust is formed simply by the top browning as it cooks. I love the salty flavor of Parmesan cheese and cheat a little from the classic recipe by adding it on top of the gratin in this recipe.

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Potatoes and half-and-half in a copper oval gratin pan, uncooked.

An important feature of a classic potato gratin is the amount of garlic in the dish. Many recipes will tell you to simply rub the inside of the gratin dish with a clove of garlic. In this recipe, I add a smashed clove of garlic to the half-and-haf and simmer them together for 15 minutes to add a little garlic flavor ever-so-delicately. Sometimes I remember to remove that clove of garlic and sometimes I completely forget and tell my guests that it’s a lucky charm for whoever finds it.

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Potatoes and half-and-half in a copper oval gratin pan, uncooked with Parmesan cheese on top.

The two most important parts of this dish are 1) slicing the potatoes properly and 2) using the right pan for the job. I like to use a Yukon Gold potato when I want a gratin that has distinct slices and Russet potatoes when I want a more uniform texture to my gratin, with the potatoes melting into the cream more completely. Whichever potato you choose, use a mandolin if you have one to slice the potatoes perfectly and evenly. With even slices, the potatoes will cook evenly and that’s the first key to success.

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Potato gratin in a copper oval gratin pan on a wooden table with ham in background.

The right pan for the job is one that is not too deep. You want the heat to surround the potato gratin properly, giving the top surface full exposure to the heat. A pan that is too deep will insulate the top of the gratin and prevent it from browning properly. The classic potato gratin dish is an oval pan like this one. It makes a spectacular presentation at the table too, which is important since you can’t transfer the whole gratin to a serving dish. If you don’t have a classic gratin dish, any shallow-sided pan will do the trick and you can portion out the potatoes onto plates before taking the plates to the table.

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A blue dinner plate with a wedge of potato gratin, ham and broccoli.

You see? A versatile side dish – fancy enough to serve at the finest of tables in a classic oval gratin pan… or rustic and friendly enough to serve directly onto plates. Either way, it’s always delicious!

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Potato Gratin

  • Prep Time: 15 m
  • Cook Time: 1 h 15 m
  • Total Time: 1 h 30 m
  • Servings:
    6

Ingredients

  • cups half-and-half, divided
  • 2 cloves of garlic smashed flat
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 pounds potatoes, about 5 or 6, peeled and sliced (¼-inch slices)
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon butter, cut into small cubes
  • fresh thyme leaves optional

Instructions

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350˚ F.
  2. Combine 1½ cups of half-and-half with the garlic in a shallow skillet or gratin pan and bring to a simmer on the stovetop. Simmer for 15 minutes. Season with the salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
  3. Turn the heat off underneath the half-and-half and add the sliced potatoes, separating the slices and pressing them into the half-and-half to ensure they are all distributed evenly. Add enough of the remaining half-and-half to just cover all the potatoes. Top with the Parmesan cheese, dot with butter, and transfer the pan to the oven.
  4. Bake in the oven for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender and nicely browned on top. Serve with a little fresh thyme on top if desired.
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Comments (4)Post a Reply

  1. 5 stars
    I made the potato gratin. I had to use a glass dish, and it didn’t look as nice as yours, but it was delicious. I will make that one again. I enjoy your recipes and have several of your books. Please keep including the dog pictures; they are too cute.

    Thanks, Pat

    1. Hi. Excessive heat will cause the milk in the half and half to curdle. You might have baked it a little too long, causing the sauce to break. It is still edible when this happens but not always so appealing. A quick fix is to pour a little heavy cream or half & half over top and sprinkle some parmesan cheese on top.

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