A good (potato) gratin is something you can have fun with. Here’s how.

Here’s a recipe for potatoes au gratin. If you haven’t made this before, start with a recipe. It’s good. There’s many of them on the Internet. This one uses cream and milk. I’ve also seen ones that use a white sauce. Either way, you want something on the richer side. But here on my blog I want you to take recipes and start improvising/riffing on them, and a good gratin is no exception.

For example, this recipe uses gruyere and parmesan, and that’s a good combo. Now try different combinations of white coloured cheeses, like aged cheddar or mozzarella or some shredded blend if you have it on hand. Even blue cheese can work well if that’s something you love. Overall I like the way white cheese brown up, but if you prefer another colour, it should be fine too. Eat the cheese you love.

This recipes also uses garlic and thyme and nutmeg, and those are great. But you could try rosemary or oregano if you want. You could kick up the heat but using some chile oil instead of butter on the bottom of the pan. Maybe use tex mex cheese and sprinkle in a bit of cumin to go with that. Again, your call.

If you want to use three layers, that’s ok. This one does. I usually just stick with two. I like it on the flat side.

Finally I brown it first and then cover with foil, because I really like that browning on top. But have some foil on hand to cover it when need be. (Also if the gratin is ready before the rest of the meal is cooked, the foil will help keep it warm if you pull it out of the oven and leave resting on the counter.)

Now you have some ideas, here’s kinda the blueprint for your own personal gratin.

  1. Fat: I put some fat in the bottom of a pan so the potatoes won’t stick.  Plus you can get more flavour in.
  2. Flavour: I sprinkle in some flavour (e.g. minced garlic). Not too much.
  3. Potatoes: I spread thinly sliced peeled potatoes around the bottom of the pan until it’s covered.
  4. Cheese: I sprinkle any shredded cheese I have over the potatoes to lightly cover them.
  5. Herbs: Add some finely chopped herbs or dried herbs. A herb combo like herb de Provence or an Italian herb blend would be nice.
  6. Repeat: Repeat with another layer of peeled potatoes, cheese and herbs.
  7. Cream/dairy: Pour heavy cream or some cream/milk combo over it all until you have covered the bottom of the pan but not so much the potatoes are submerged in it.
  8. Pepper: Grind some pepper over the top. Some paprika might also be nice, but use a light hand.
  9. Cook: Cook in a hot oven with a chicken or some other roast until it is golden brown. If it is golden brown and the potatoes are still firm, cover with aluminum foil until the potatoes are softer but not mushy.

Nine steps might seem like a lot, but once you do it once, you will be able to do it in your sleep without even referring back to anything. Just remember it’s all about layering.

Use any pan you have: fancy pie plate, rectangular pan, small tin pie plate…heck, use a muffin tin even. Make sure it can hold the cream or cream/milk combo.

I will often make this with a roast chicken (3 ish pounds/1.5 kilos) or a small roast beef (2.5 pounds, 1ish kilos). You could do sausages too. Anything fairly hardy to stand up to the gratin. Check on the gratin while cooking. If  it is done before the meat, just put it aside and it will stay warm until the meat is done. Or put it in halfway while the meat is cooking, then take out the meat to rest and let it continue to cook. Whatever. This is causal cooking here.

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