Potato Gratin

Happy New Year!

Another year is over, and we are all thinking about what 2011 will bring. There are those things we know will happen – work, the changing seasons, the promise of holidays – as well as all those unexpected events that will keep life interesting. This blog belongs in the latter category – I started it as a little hobby to keep myself out of trouble and as a way of recording my recipes and challenging myself to make new things, and I am thrilled that so many people are stopping by to check out what I have been doing. Thanks to each and every one of you!

At this time of year, we have usually all consumed our own body weight in cookies, mince pies and chocolates, so it is only natural for the mind to turn to more savoury dishes. While I fully expect that by 8 January my mind will be turning even further to the healthy side of life (light salads, healthy soups), I plan to ease in to this with a satisfying savoury favourite with…eh…rather a lot of cream. It’s my take on potato gratin, or gratin dauphinois if we’re feeling fancy. So not so very healthy, but one step at a time, after all…

I made this recently at Christmas drinks. All that mulled wine and endless plates of biscuit were well and good, but you reach the point where you want something savory, if for no other reason than to stop your guests from lapsing into a hyperglycaemic coma. It was such a hit that the dish was stripped before I could even get to taste it, and people were hovering around the kitchen asking if there was more…

There are a few tricks to guarantee a good result. Firstly, the potatoes: you can use any variety, but if you’ve got the choice, waxy ones are best. Next, do you use raw or parboiled? I have tried this using both, and unless you are an obsessive-compulsive sort, uncooked potatoes are just fine.

What does make a bit of a difference is washing the potatoes. Once you’ve sliced them as thinly as possible, tip everything into a large bowl, cover with cold water, then use your hands to slosh the potatoes around. Tip into a colander or sieve, then repeat. You’ll be truly amazed by just how much starch you remove this way. This means that once you pour over the cream, the potatoes will cook in the liquid, rather than forming a gloopy sauce. We want silky and creamy, not gloopy!

Next, how to season? I like a hit of garlic, but it can easily be too much. The trick here is to whack a clove with the back of a knife, slice in half, and rub the halves around the inside of the baking dish. This gets a subtle whisper of garlic flavour in the final dish. I also season each layer of potato with some salt, and lots of freshly ground black pepper and fresh nutmeg.

And of course the cream. Instinct might say “pour it on”, but there is a trick here too. Rather than just cream, I use a 50/50 mixture of double cream and water. This provides enough liquid for the potatoes to cook in so they become soft, but it reduces down in the oven the just coat the potatoes, and avoids a gratin that can sometimes be too greasy.

And…cheese? A lot of people use it, but I give it a miss. Just dot the top with butter for a glorious golden finish.

So go forth, enjoy this warm, comforting culinary classic, and next week this little cook is moving over to the New Year health drive.

To make potato gratin:

• 50g butter
• potatoes (as many as fit into your dish), peeled and thinly sliced
• 1 clove garlic, peeled
• ground salt
• freshly ground black pepper
• freshly grated nutmeg
• 150-200ml double cream

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).

Cut the garlic clove in half, and rub all over the inside of the serving dish (mine was 20 x 30cm). Spread the base of the dish with half the butter.

Place the sliced potatoes into a large bowl. Cover with cold water, and stir well. The water should turn white from the potato starch. Drain the potatoes, and rinse a second time. Drain again and shake off any excess water.

Layer 1/4 of the potatoes in the dish. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Add another layer of potatoes, then more seasoning, then more potatoes, then more seasoning, and then a final layer of potatoes.

In a jug, combine the cream and the same volume of water and stir well. Pour over the potatoes (the cream mixture should come 2/3 of the way up the potatoes). Cut the rest of the butter into small pieces and scatter over the potatoes.

Bake the gratin for one hour until the top is golden, and a knife can be easily inserted. Serve warm.

Worth making? The is a classic side dish, but makes an equally good main dish with a fresh green salad on a chilly winter evening. Definitely one to try! Can also be made ahead of time and re-heated.

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Filed under Recipe, Savoury

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