This is such a beautifully simple dish. It’s also quite rich and begs that you throw away your fear of dairy, potatoes and butter and embrace how amazing those ingredients, in combination, can truly be. This is not the potatoes gratin you are used to where rather thick slices of potato are all stacked on top of each other in a huge dish, covered in cheese. This recipe actually has no cheese. I know I’d had the dehydrated versions of potatoes gratin out of the box, and possibly something similar at a buffet, but I’d never tried making it myself until we read the book, Must Have Been Something I Ate, by Jeffrey Steingarten. (This book will change you.)
The section of his book that this recipe comes from is entitled “There is a God in Heaven”, (I love a person as emphatic about food as I am) with the quote beneath the section headline, “But as luck would have it, there is a God in Heaven. Medical researchers now know that not all saturated fats are the same, and that cocoa butter does not raise our cholesterol.” And in that section is an entire chapter dedicated to Gratin Dauphinois (the French created this dish, of course), or Potatoes Gratin. Gratin, coming from the word “gratter”, meaning, “to scrape” referring to the crispy bits of cream that get glued to the sides of the pan and scrape off and crunch so amazingly well. Say no more.
We have eaten this dish as a meal, before, but it goes best as an accompaniment to a really great steak and a really fresh salad or other light side. Also, don’t make the mistake of serving a rich dessert after eating these potatoes. I’m all for indulgence and you will never, ever find me saying that you should avoid entire food groups or ingredients altogether (bring on the corn, cheese, gluten, you name the poison) but I am also not dumb enough to serve a rich dessert after a dish this heavy. You’d sink all the way to the bottom of the playa lake. Everything in balance!
serves 6-8 as a side
4 tbs butter, softened to room temp
1 cup whole milk
1 large garlic clove, peeled and lightly crushed
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
3/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1.5 lbs baking potatoes
1.5 cups heavy cream
Preheat your oven to 425F. Place the milk, garlic clove, pepper, salt and nutmeg in a small saucepan, stir, bring to a boil and then remove from the heat.
Meanwhile, liberally butter the bottom and sides of a 9×13″ baking dish, using about half the butter. Peel the potatoes, rinse them, and pat them dry. Then, slice them 1/8th of an inch thick, discarding the smallest slices (This is easier with a mandoline) The cooking times really depend on this thickness, so don’t go too much thicker. Under no circumstances should you wash the potatoes after they have been sliced — the surface starch is absolutely indispensable.
Evenly arrange the potatoes in the buttered dish in ONE LAYER of overlapping slices. You will undoubtedly have some slices left over. Don’t try to cram them in. Bring the milk to a boil again and pour it over the potatoes, removing the garlic. Cover the pan with a sheet of foil and bake in the middle of the oven for about 15 minutes, until most of the milk has been absorbed. Meanwhile, bring the cream to a boil and remove from heat. When the potatoes are ready, remove and discard the foil. Bring the cream back to a boil and pour it over the potatoes, dotting the surface with the remaining butter.
Bake, uncovered, for another 20 to 25 minutes, until the potatoes have turned golden brown, spotted with darker, crisp areas. You may need to rotate the dish halfway through cooking to ensure an even browning. We love thyme leaves in this dish and will sprinkle some on when the dish is nearly done baking. Let the gratin settle for 10 minutes. Then eat immediately – taste and texture suffer with each passing minute. Cut into 6 to 8 rectangles and serve with a wide, metal slotted spatula.
*most of the text taken directly from Jeffrey Steingarten’s book. Go get it!