Julia Child's Gratin Dauphinois

by gratinee on October 31, 2009

gratinee

Whether baked or fried, roasted, or boiled, I’ve never met a potato I didn’t like. On its own, it is a humble thing, a lowly tuberous crop that can be had for mere pennies; one that has, at times, provided sustenance to the poorest of nations. But with some oil and heat, a sprinkling of salt, a healthy dollop of butter or sour cream, the potato is transformed into something ethereal. In my opinion, the supreme leader of this magical potato kingdom is the scalloped potato–officially know as the Gratin Dauphinois.

I will tell you what I love about the French. Only they have a word for the golden, crispy bits of food that get stuck around the edges of a baking dish. This word, gratin, comes from the verb gratter, which means “to scrape”. Gratinée is from the transitive verb form of the word for “crust”. It is a culinary technique in which ingredients are topped with breadcrumbs, butter, or grated cheese, then baked or broiled until a golden crust develops. As you can imagine from the name of my blog, I am a fiend for gratins.

Virtually anything edible can be made into a gratin, but potato gratinée is most common, particularly the Gratin Dauphinois. This dish is a specialty of the Dauphiné region of France. It involves layering thinly sliced potatoes with cream and sometimes egg in a buttered dish rubbed with garlic. A Gratin Savoyard, on the other hand, found in a neighboring region, is made without milk but beef broth.

A good Gratin Dauphinois should be crispy on the top and bottom and have a rich, cheesy taste, even without any cheese added. If you look closely at your gratin upon taking it out of the oven, you will notice the cream has turned into a curdled, cheese-like substance. You should not be alarmed when this happens. In fact, this is a most desirable trait in a gratin. As the potatoes absorb water from the liquid, you get a concentration of fat and protein, just as you would with fresh cheese curds.

I have made a great deal of gratins in my lifetime, following many different recipes many times over, and I can tell you that they never turn out the same. The thickness of the potato slices, the way they are layered, the depth and width of the dish you use and where you place it in the oven all influence your end result. Even the thickness of your cream can be of great influence. Starchy potatoes are a must.

There are countless recipes for Gratin Dauphinois, some of which ask you to boil the potatoes before baking them. I am not sure this method creates a superior gratin, so why bother? This recipe is from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It is fast and easy and produces the kind of gratin that will have you picking those crispy, delectable bits off the baking dish.

Julia Child’s Gratin Dauphinois

Serves 6

gratin

Ingredients:

2 pounds starchy potatoes

1/2 clove unpeeled garlic

4 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1 cup (4 ounces) grated Swiss cheese

1 cup boiling milk or cream

Method:

1) Preheat oven to 425F. Peel the potatoes and slice them 1/8 inch thick. Place in cold water. Drain when ready to use.

2) Rub the baking dish with cut garlic. Smear the dish with 1 tablespoon of the butter.

3) Drain the potatoes and dry them in a towel. Spread half of them in the bottom of the dish. Divide over them half the salt, pepper, cheese, and butter.

4) Arrange the remaining potatoes over the first layer and season. Spread on the rest of the cheese and divide the butter over it. Pour on the boiling milk.

5) Set the baking dish in upper third of preheated oven. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the potatoes are tender, the milk is absorbed, and the top is a golden brown.


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{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

Rosa October 31, 2009 at 11:07 am

That is one of my favorite side dishes! Your gratin looks fantastic!

Cheers,

Rosa

KimHo October 31, 2009 at 9:48 pm

For regular applications, I prefer sweet potato or yam over regular/plain potato, oddly for the reason you mentioned – you don’t have to add sour cream or butter! I guess I should give this one a try, to see how it ends up, hehehehehe.

gratinee October 31, 2009 at 10:00 pm

I love sweet potatoes and yams, too. Yay, potatoes!

Fuji Mama November 1, 2009 at 10:25 am

“I will tell you what I love about the French. Only they have a word for the golden, crispy bits of food that get stuck around the edges of a baking dish.” —Amen to that girl! Bless Julia, bless her.

Julia @ Mélanger November 1, 2009 at 7:59 pm

I am with you. There has never been a potato I didn’t like. And what could be better than potato + cream + cheese? This looks delicious. How great is Julia Child?

gastroanthropologist November 2, 2009 at 2:55 am

Seriously, everything you post I want to eat. I just finished drooling over the warmed goat cheese and now this. Its quite possible that I could eat that entire pan. Maybe in this case its better for my heart if I just admire from the screen!

Simply Life November 2, 2009 at 6:41 am

WOW that looks amazing and so comforting!

nithya at hungrydesi November 2, 2009 at 7:09 am

Agreed as well – no potato that I didn’t like! This looks fantastic. Great blog – happy to have found it.

gratinee November 2, 2009 at 7:14 am

Thanks for stopping by.

Pam November 2, 2009 at 12:19 pm

Wonderful blog you have and Congrats on the foodie blogroll!

Enjoy!

gratinee November 2, 2009 at 12:26 pm

Thank you!

Leigh November 27, 2009 at 7:27 am

The French aren’t the only ones with a word for those little crispy bits around the edges of skillets and baking dishes. My mother’s family lives in Indiana on farms land-granted by Andrew Jackson. After so many generations, we have a LOT of family history, mostly useless but sometimes fun.

My ancestors called those little crispy bits ‘grannies’, which I assumed derived from the word ‘granules’. After reading your article, I see the word is close enough to ‘gratin’ to make me wonder if there might be a connection.

BTW, gratinée (the soup) is a favorite of mine.

gratinee November 28, 2009 at 9:59 am

Thanks for the bit of info. That’s really interesting. Maybe it does come from the word gratin! I could see the connection.

chuck February 12, 2010 at 7:29 pm

I noticed that you’ve eliminated the stovetop part of the cooking in the recipe, but kept the oven time the same. I haven’t tried this recipe, but wondered at the difference in methods.
Thanks,
CV

gratinee February 13, 2010 at 8:08 am

I’ve never used the stovetop, Chuck. I don’t think it’s a necessary step and don’t see what it adds, but maybe I should try it once to really see if there’s any difference. Thanks for dropping by.

Richard H. Rogers February 15, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Great all around I am going to lasso the gratinee very soon!!

lynh February 15, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Hi Gratinee,
This was delicious! I think I like the version with just cream better but this was great just the same. Just one comment: You didn’t say what size dish to use (I assume 9 x 13 is the standard baking size?) Anyway I was baking dinner at a friend’s house and used one round casserole dish and one 8 x 11 casserole dish and everything turned out ok. My sister made this before, and it was great – but just for next time, you can layer one more than one row of potatoes before adding the butter, cheese, salt, pepper, etc. right?

gratinee February 15, 2010 at 4:48 pm

I’m glad you enjoyed it. You can add more layers but the point of using one layer is to get that really crispy bottom, as I understand it. The pan should be 10 inches long, 2 inches deep, according to the recipe. Sorry for the omission!

Richard H. Rogers February 18, 2010 at 9:19 am

Fantastic – I’m on my way over and locking the front door of my auberge!

Cindy September 29, 2010 at 9:20 pm

After reading Julie & Julia I ran out and got Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child from the library…I am looking at it right now (how exciting)!

The first recipe I made was Potage Parmentier (Leek or Onion and Potato Soup). I made it with leeks…it was so easy and tasted amazing! Then I proceeded to make Gratin Dauphinois (Scalloped Potatoes with Milk, Cheese, and a Pinch of Garlic). Julia recommends reading every recipe thoroughly before starting, which unfortunately I did not. So when I got to the part that says, “Set baking dish over heat and when simmering, set in upper third of preheated oven” I had to improvise since I had not used a stovetop save baking dish.

I was afraid to skip the stovetop step without increasing the 20-30 min at 425 baking time originally called for in her recipe so I baked it covered with foil 30 min at 425, uncovered 20 min at 300, then 5-10 min at Broil to brown to top. It came out fantastic but was not crispy on the bottom. How do you get a crispy bottom? Is that the purpose of the stovetop step? After reading your comment above, next time I will try just baking it uncovered for the 20-30 min at 425 as originally stated in the recipe.

By the way, Julia says to use “A fireproof baking-serving dish about 10 inches in diameter and 2 inches deep (if recipe is increased, dish must be wider but no deeper).” Her use of the word “diameter” concludes she is recommending a round dish. I used an 8″x8″ square dish which has approximately the same capacity.

I love your writeup preceeding the recipe, Gratinee! Lots of great information and very well written.

Bon Appetit! (I couldn’t resist)

Darina September 30, 2010 at 7:27 pm

Thank you so much, Cindy. I know that Julia did a lot of work to make her recipes very exact, so improvising sometimes does not lead to the same results. I read an interesting article by Vogue’s Jeffrey Steingarten in which he says to get a truly crispy bottom you must use a very thin layer of potatoes. I must explore this method more. Thank you for stopping by and sharing your experience. It’s much appreciated!

gloria hart January 27, 2011 at 7:12 am

awesome recipe…baked for 40 minutes….too long and got dry so next time I will bake for only 30 minutes and remove from oven ASAP! My husband said they were the best scalloped pots he has had in long, long time.

many thanks

Jen March 25, 2011 at 6:07 am

This recipe was a incredible success! I can’t believe it. I made the most delicious gratin dauphinois that I have ever had with this recipe and I lived in Grenoble where this dish is very popular. I am no “grand chef” and this recipe was perfect, especially the garlic trick. What an idea! Thanks!

Darina March 25, 2011 at 12:09 pm

I can’t take credit for Julia’s wonderful recipe. My hope is to make it accessible to those who do not have their own copy of MtAoFC. It is fantastic, isn’t it? I agree about the garlic trick. How lovely that you live in Grenoble!

Emily April 27, 2011 at 5:46 pm

This is *delicious*! I cut the recipe in half, sprinkled a little extra cheese on top, crushed the garlic after rubbing the pan and boiled it with the milk, added a little extra milk, and baked it longer to get the potatoes soft. Scrumptious!

Giancarlo May 18, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Sorry to say this, but a real gratin dauphinois would never have cheese secreted amidst its layers…

Eloi September 18, 2011 at 12:18 am

I tried this recipe today. It tastes exactly as I expected. What I like about this Gratin is that it never leads to the same result. By only changing small details, you get different textures though it is difficult to get it totally wrong. I like that dynamics. Next time I want to use whole milk (I used fat free this time), thicker layers, and maybe reduce a bit the temperature of the owen and increase time. I want it to become more creamy in the middle but still crispy on the top.

Darina September 18, 2011 at 6:30 pm

I’m glad you liked it, Eloi. I think using full fat milk or even full fat milk mixed with cream is ideal in terms of texture and taste. Playing with the oven temperature is also a good idea because every oven is different, isn’t it?

Matthew Novak November 13, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Made this tonight and modified a little… a little beef Demi glace in with heavy cream. The texture interestingly was a little loose, but the taste, yummy. Thanks gratin!

JimTx December 23, 2011 at 12:32 pm

Good recipe. I think it is a mistake, however, to put the sliced potatoes in a bowl of water before cooking. This defeats the whole purpose of using high-starch potatoes. The starch helps thicken the liquid and also helps the potatoes drink in the liquid to get that creamy texture throughout.

th3hungrycat January 5, 2012 at 3:09 pm

I made this the other day and it was in 2 words: utterly delicious!

klh January 20, 2012 at 2:38 am

Hi, can you tell me what “boiling milk” is?
If I use cream instead, what kind of cream do you recommend?

Darina January 20, 2012 at 8:02 pm

Milk that has just been boiled and is ready to be poured onto the potatoes, as you do not want to add cold milk to the recipe.I think you could use whipping cream or half and half in this recipe.

dop March 23, 2012 at 12:57 pm

Contrary to the description a proper gratin should NOT break and form curds. The sauce should be creamy throughout.

Darina March 25, 2012 at 9:58 am

Yes, you are right. I have discovered this since writing the post. I can’t recall where I initially read that a gratin might have curds. I have found this dependent on the potatoes I used and can understand now why it is not a desirable trait. A gratin should definitely be creamy. Thanks for pointing this out.

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Darina April 16, 2012 at 8:42 am

Thanks. I’ve been blogging for three years.

George April 29, 2012 at 3:51 pm

I’ve made this many times from Julia’s recipe, never with success. I always used a 10″ pie dish. It always cam out watery, never crisp. I think the shallow oblong baking dish may be the trick. Interesting to see everyone’s tinkering. Great blog.

Darina April 30, 2012 at 8:21 pm

Thanks, George. Whenever any scalloped potato recipe has failed me it’s because the type of potato I used was not starchy enough. Try Yukon Gold, if you haven’t already.

Sebastian Fortineaux August 19, 2012 at 10:54 am

Wow…thanks! I too used to boil the potatoes in the milk or cream before. But, in honor of Julia Child’s 100th birthday I googled & ended up at your site. I made two alterations: I love garlic so I put 2 cloves through the garlic press & popped them into the cream (which by the way makes the house smell like garlic-cream heaven!) & used a Piave cheese because it was on sale at my local wine/gourmet shop &, as my brother & I used to say about food when we were kids, “It was bangin’!” I served it with Roast Chicken a la Child & Brussels Sprouts with bacon & caramelized onions – something I learned in France but not from Julia!

Darina August 19, 2012 at 4:59 pm

That sounds like an amazing meal. I’ve never made them by boiling them in cream but it’s on my to-do list. Do you have a good recipe? I once had realty creamy potato gratin at a little bistro in Montmarte called “Un Zebre en Montmarte” that was to die for and seemed to be cooked in cream. I plan to post at least a couple more Julia recipes this month in honour of her 100th birthday. Sometimes the recipes take a bit more time but the results are always brilliant. Love the idea of more garlic. Thanks for sharing.

Lynn December 14, 2012 at 11:59 am

FYI-I believe the soaking of potatoes is actually is good idea, since the potatoes will oxidize and discolor once they are exposed to the open air. It is recommended to cover and place in water. We are the Masters in our own Kitchens and thus this recipe is open to interpretation; talk of a ‘true’ gratin vs an one that is not, is therefore somewhat pointless.

lynn December 14, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Meant to say Vs one that is not. Please edit/disregard an. thanks.

Grace January 5, 2013 at 7:55 pm

I love it but I think it turned out too oily. I had to use a paper napkin to whip off half of the oil that had formed after the milk/cream mixture I used evaporated.

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