Reminiscing Paris

Potato Gratin


So I must say that I am really becoming home-sick for Paris; that’s right, I consider Paris my home, so therefore, I am home-sick.  Nonetheless, in order to keep all those memories alive, I like to make things that I found along my trip through Europe.  Tonight, that meal was a classic potato gratin.  Although this may seem a simple task, it does in fact take some finesse and attention to detail.  When I say “finesse” and “attention-to-detail”, I mean that you must season amidst the layers of potatoes and mornay sauce (béchamel with gruyere or any sort of cheese), cook those potatoes perfectly and have the proper ratio of mornay to potatoes.  Now, don’t freak out, it’s still an easy dish; I suppose I am just passionate about simplicity and ensuring it’s done right.


1 onion, cut in half

2 bay leaves

6 cups milk

2 ½ tablespoons butter

3 ½ flour

2 garlic cloves

8 yukon gold potatoes, thinly sliced on a mandolin

4-5 cups gruyere cheese

2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper

A few good grates of nutmeg

2 tablespoons olive oil

For the potatoes:

Slice all of your potatoes on the thinnest setting of your mandolin straight into a bowl of water.  The water does two things for the potatoes: it keeps them from browning and also removes some of the excess starch.  When you’re ready to use them, drain them and set aside.  If you don’t have a mandolin, there are food processors that have a slicer setting and it works just as well.

Start by heating up the milk, onion, garlic and bay leaves up in a saucepan on medium heat.  You’ll want to bring it up to a simmer and then kill the heat to allow everything to steep.  In the meantime, go ahead and add the butter and flour to a saute pan and heat over medium heat, as well, and stir everything together and cook for about a minute—this is what is called a roux.  The butter will start to melt and grab onto the flour and form a thick paste—this is exactly what you want.  Next, turn off the heat and remove the aromatics from the milk.  Then, put the milk back on  medium heat and whisk in the roux until completely dissolved; however, be sure to allow the mixture to come to a boil, as nothing comes to its fullest thickening potential until it is brought to a boil.  At this point, this is what is called a béchamel; the minute you add cheese, it becomes a mornay.  Next, season with salt and pepper, add the cheese and the mustard and stir to allow everything to combine.  Finally, season with a few good grates of fresh nutmeg on a microplane or a few pinches of already grated nutmeg; but be careful, because this can overpower the sauce if you add too much.  Now, for the assembly: take a cast iron pan and preheat over medium-high heat with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Once the pan is heated, start to layer the potatoes from the outermost section of pan, cascading around the pan and into the middle.  Essentially, you want to have a fallen domino effect with your potatoes from the outside, circling all the way into the middle.  Then, season with salt and pepper and allow the first layer to cook for about 5 minutes—this just gives it a nice bottom crust.  Next, ladle over about 1 and a half ladles of the cheese sauce over the potatoes.  Now, it’s time for your next layer.  Continue this process until supplies lasts and leave about ½ an inch lip from the top of your pan.  Finally, ladle the remaining cheese sauce over the last layer and smooth over with a spatula.  Again, season with salt and pepper and then place into a 400 degree oven for 60 minutes.  You might want to put a sheet pan underneath the pan in case it bubbles over.

Once the gratin is finished, allow it to rest in a cool place for about 25 minutes so that everything sets up and it doesn’t feel like napalm in your mouth—isn’t that fun?  Once cooled, cut into a generous piece and serve.  This dish seriously takes me back to Europe and beats that boxed “Au Gratin” my mom used to make with bacon bits.  I hope you make this dish and enjoy it as much as I do.


Caleb Fortney.

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