aka…Pommes de terre gratinees, pommes de terre en escalopes, gratin Dauphinois, or just plain old scalloped potatoes in America!
Call it what you like. This exquisite, if simple, potato indulgence can be served with almost anything and, with variations, can be one of the most versatile and pleasurable dishes you will ever cook. The aroma wafting out of the kitchen beckons recollections of hearty French farmhouse cooking at its very best.
I call this a rustic potato gratin simply because I do not peel the potatoes, but peel if you like. Otherwise the recipe bows to the French wisdom of using the freshest ingredients and cooking procedures that turn out a sublime gratin.
Rustic Potato Gratin Serves 4-6
- 2 ¼ pounds small firm potatoes
- 3 ¼ cups whole milk
- freshly grated nutmeg to taste
- sea salt to taste
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- parsley sprigs
- thyme sprigs
- ½ cup minced shallots
- 1 plump garlic clove, halved lengthwise
- 1 cup cream
- 2 cups finely grated Gruyère cheese
- freshly ground white pepper
Place the milk in a wide brazing pan set on top of the stove. Add some grated nutmeg, about ¾ teaspoon salt, and half the butter. Tie the parsley and thyme sprigs together with kitchen twine and add to the milk, stir, and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 375F/190C with rack set in the middle position.
Slice the potatoes to about 1/8 inch thickness. Place the sliced potatoes into the milk mixture in the brazing pan as you work. This will prevent the potatoes from turning brown while you continue slicing. Once all the potatoes are in the pan turn the flame to medium high. Once the milk begins to boil lower the flame and simmer the potatoes for about 10 minutes or until they are softened, but still holding their shape. Stir gently as needed to avoid the potatoes sticking to the bottom of the pan.
While the potatoes are simmering, rub the baking dish with the garlic, pressing firmly to extract the essence of the garlic as you rub the bottom and sides of the dish. Then smear the remaining butter over the entire interior of the baking dish.
Combine the cream and grated Gruyère in a bowl, stir, and set aside.
When the potatoes are softened turn off the flame. Remove the parsley and thyme and discard. Using a slotted spoon, transfer half of the potatoes to the prepared baking dish and spread them out into an even layer.
Scatter half of the shallots over the potatoes and season with nutmeg, salt and white pepper. Then add half of the cream and cheese mixture evenly over the top.
Then transfer the remaining potatoes to the baking dish and spread them evenly over the first layer of potatoes. Season with nutmeg, salt, and white pepper. Then add the remaining cream and cheese mixture evenly over the top and set the baking dish aside.
Turn the flame back on to medium and reduce the milk mixture until it thickens to the inconstancy of cream. Strain into a bowl to remove any milk solids. You should have about ¾ cups. Spoon the reduced milk around the edges of and over the potatoes.
Transfer the dish to the oven and bake for about 1 hour, turning the baking dish after 30 minutes to insure even browning over the surface of the potatoes. Keep an eye on the browning potatoes towards the end of the cooking time to avoid over browning !
Remove from the oven and set aside for a few minutes before serving. During the warm months I like to serve the potatoes warm, rather than hot straight out of the oven. In cold weather it’s oven to table promptly.