Classic French Potatoes au Gratin

S. Kenney- Classic French Potatoes Au Gratin

Isn't everyone always trying to make the perfect potatoes au gratin dish?  Not too watery, not too dry, and crisped just right on top always seem to be 3 elements that make a great au gratin.

I tried this recipe to go  along with my barbequed leg of lamb.  Because what goes better with lamb than potatoes?!  While the dish was delicious, what I really enjoyed was the new mandolin (sp?) that I purchased at the Williams Sonoma store in order to slice the potatoes.  I'm sure those of you that follow my articles and  know that I am taking cooking lessons at W&S  are chuckling at the success factor of the store in supplying me with new cooking devices.  I just seem to NEED many of their tools to perfect my craft (wink).

The new mandolin has now become essential to any future au gratin that I make.  The perfectly cut 1/8" thick potato rounds were soft and creamy in the dish.  I am always afraid to oversalt a dish but I would definitely add more salt to this dish.  I would also throw in some chopped up bacon and add thyme to this au gratin as well.  However, as a classic, the simplicity pairs nicely with something as aromatic as lamb.

This is the very simple potatos au gratin dish that was served to us at our friend's house in France on a recent trip.  Often, the best cream, potatoes, and cheese make the simplest dishes the most delicious.

Classic French Potatoes Au Gratin:

2 lb. Yukon Gold or russet potatoes, peeled 
3 cups whipping or heavy cream (I used half and half)
1 tsp. kosher salt (mine needed much more salt)
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper 
Generous pinch of freshly grated nutmeg 
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed 
3/4 cup finely shredded Gruyère, Emmental, or Comté 
Heat the oven to 400°F. Using a very sharp knife or a mandoline, carefully cut the potatoes into 1/8-inch slices (no thicker).
(Again, I would add chopped bacon and perhaps some thyme to give this dish some more flavor but the simplicity without these additions is delicious)

Put the potatoes in a large heavy-based saucepan and add the cream, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and garlic. Cook the mixture over medium-high heat until the cream is boiling, stirring occasionally (very gently with a rubber spatula so you don't break up the slices).

When the cream boils, pour the mixture into a 2-1/2- or 3-qt. baking dish. If you don't want a tender but garlicky surprise mouthful, remove and discard the garlic cloves. Shake the dish a bit to let the slices settle and then sprinkle the surface with the cheese.

Bake in the hot oven until the top is deep golden brown, the cream has thickened, and the potatoes are extremely tender when pierced with a knife, about 40 minutes. Don't worry if the dish looks too liquidy at this point; it will set up as it cools a bit. Before serving, let the potatoes cool until they're very warm but not hot (at least 15 minutes) or serve them at room temperature.  (Note:  I made mine a day ahead of time.  The next day, I actually microwaved the dish, then finished it off under the broiler because of the timing of all of my other dishes.  If you do this, I would add a bit extra cream before warming the dish in the microwave.)

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