The humble potato has been a staple in what I would call my culinary heritage. Whether boiled or buttered, mashed with buttermilk or baked in cream with a blanket of cheese bubbling on top in one form or another, makes the potato irresistible. I could be as happy as a clam eating no more than pommes a la dauphinoise with a simple green salad at its side. Maybe not every day, but certainly when the weather turns crisp it is this type of comfort food that I crave. I rather like that fact that cooks disagree about things. If we didn't then cooking would be a much less interesting subject and in risk of atrophy. The traditional potato for a gratin, or dauphinoise, is a yellow-fleshed, waxy variety that holds it shape, and yet I made my gratins with a floury potato for many years simply because I like the fact that they collapsed into the creamy sauce. On the subject of nutmeg, of which I'm quite particular, it must be fresh. And by fresh I mean that it is not the ground powder that expired in 2013. But a nut with a glossy brown shell. You only need a few shavings using a fine grater, but the addition of this spice perfumes the dish with a nutty, slightly sweet flavor and enhances the dish beautifully. This recipe below is from the beloved Julia Child, the queen of French cuisine and cannot be beat. The layering of potatoes with grated Gruyere and milk is a marriage of kindred spirits and is a welcome side along the ubiquitous turkey at Thanksgiving or a standing rib roast at Christmas Eve. If you cannot possibly wait that long a nicely roasted chicken stands up well to the gloriously caramelized cheesy top and rich melting interior. I'm quite certain Julia would approve. -s
Julia Child's Gratin Dauphinoise
- 2 lbs. potatoes
- 1/2 clove unpeeled garlic
- 4 Tb butter
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/8 tsp pepper
- pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 cup (4 oz.) grated Swiss Gruyere cheese
- 1 cup boiling milk
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- Peel the potatoes and slice them 1/8 inch thick. Place in a basin of cold water. Drain when ready to use.
- Rub the baking dish with the cut garlic. Smear the inside of the dish with 1 tablespoon of the butter.
- 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, nutmeg, cheese, and butter. Arrange the remaining potatoes over the first layer, and season them. Spread on the rest of the cheese and divide the butter over it. Pour on the boiling milk. Set baking dish over heat and when simmering, set in upper third of preheated oven.
- Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender, milk has been absorbed and the top is nicely browned.
- Make sure potatoes are very dry before adding to baking dish or they will not properly absorb the cheese and flavors.
- Julia's Notes: May wait for half an hour, loosely covered, over simmering water. For a longer wait, stop initial cooking just before all milk has evaporated. Set aside uncovered. Shortly before serving, dot with 2 Tb butter, reheat on top of stove, and set in a 425-degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes to finish cooking.
By Julia Child