Thursday, January 17, 2013

Sunday Dinner A La Francaise - Le Gratin des Gratins

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One of the advantages of being laid up for a month was all the recipes I got to read and only dream about.  One of the cookbooks that happened to be by my bedside was Joel Robuchon's Simply French which he co wrote with Patricia Wells.  What a treasure trove of recipes and cooking tips.  I had previously only made one recipe from this book, a vegetable confit with chestnuts that I prepared last Fall, but I now have earmarked lots of recipes to try when I feel up to snuff.  (It is now four weeks folks, and I'm still not 100%.  This is the worst flu I have ever had in my life)

Last night I made the Roast Chicken Grand-Maman and his Gratin des Gratins to get me back into the groove of things.  For starters  let me tell you that, had I closed my eyes, I could have sworn I was in a French farmhouse for Sunday dinner chez la grand-mere (snow on the ground optional).  The chicken had that certain "je ne sait quois" that we can't seem to get here in the States when we try to reproduce those rotisserie chickens we see at the market all over France.  The potatoes, even though they had less butter than my Julia Child recipe, were creamy, rich and delicious.  The trick is to precook them in milk for a few minutes before finishing in the oven.

In French the word gratin means not only a dish with a top crust consisting of browned crumbs and butter, often with grated cheese; but also the "upper crust" as in tout le gratin parisien or the top of Parisian society. Hence the name of this dish.

Stay tuned for le poulet...

The "Upper Crust" Potato Gratin
(Le Gratin des Gratins)

“I am sure that if you polled a hundred Frenchmen, each one would have a
strong opinion on the ‘best’ potato gratin. Well, for me the ‘best’ is the last
great potato gratin I sampled. This recipe brings up the ever-present question
of ‘to wash or not to wash.’ There are those who believe that all potatoes
should be rinsed of starch, which on its own does not have a pleasing flavor.
Others enjoy the earthiness the starch imparts. Since you’re the cook, you
can have it your way. Or try the recipe both ways and see which is closer
to your own taste.”

Equipment: One oval baking dish (about 9 x 13 inches)


3 pounds baking potatoes, such as Idaho Russets

1 quart whole milk

Bouquet garni: several parsley stems, celery leaves, and sprigs of thyme, wrapped in
the green part of a leek and securely fastened with cotton twine

Freshly grated nutmeg to taste 

Sea salt to taste

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup heavy cream

2 cups freshly grated imported Gruyère cheese

Freshly ground white pepper to taste

1 plump fresh garlic clove, halved lengthwise


 1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Peel and thinly slice the potatoes. If desired, rinse the potatoes to rid
them of starch. Dry thoroughly in a thick towel.

3. In a large saucepan, combine the potatoes, milk, bouquet garni, nutmeg,
salt, and 1 tablespoon of the butter, and bring to boil over modately
high heat. Stir occasionally to prevent the potatoes from sticking to
the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat to moderate and cook, stirring
occasionally, until the potatoes are tender but not falling apart, about
10 minutes.

4. Prepare the topping: In a medium-size bowl, combine 1/2 cup of the
cream and 1 cup of the cheese, and stir to blend. Set aside.

5. Rub the bottom of the baking dish with the garlic and the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. With a slotted spoon, transfer half the potatoes to the baking dish. Sprinkle with additional nutmeg, pepper, the remaining 1/2 cup cream, and the remaining 1 cup cheese. Cover with the remaining potatoes and sprinkle again with nutmeg and pepper. Cover
with the reserved topping. Discard the milk and the bouquet garni.

6. Place the baking dish in the center of the oven and bake until the
potatoes are crisp and golden on top, about 1 hour. Serve immediately.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

A Touch of Garlic
To some cooks, the idea of rubbing a baking dish with a halved clove of garlic,
then discarding the garlic, seems like a waste of time. The trick is to rub the
bottom of the dish vigorously and thoroughly, so that the clove of garlic all but
falls apart and seems to disappear, totally impregnating the baking dish with
its essence. As the gratin bakes, the garlic gently flavors the potatoes and milk,
adding that essential touch of extra seasoning.


  1. oh, delicious looking. great toasty crust.

    glad you're feeling up and at 'em.

  2. What comfort food . . . and I'm interested in the chicken recipe! The gratin looks good but as we say in the midwest -- there "ain't a bad bowl of chili", I think, too, that there isn't a bad potato gratin! Just some are better than others!

  3. I love a potato gratin. My metod is to heat the milk/cream mixture and pour onto the assembled potatos in the dish...the cheese and seasoning has been layered during assembly. I eagerly await the chicken receipe based on your high praise!

  4. Although I have just had a late dinner, this leaves my mouth watering!

  5. I prepared a Potato Gratin as a side for my Christmas dinner and it was very good but this gratin is a little different. I am anxious to try this recipe. I believe I have this book as well and it was a reminder to locate it and thumb through it again and get back to trying new recipes. I definitely need to look for the Roasted Chicken recipe. Thanks, I always get inspiration each time I come to your blog and I hope you are feeling better soon.

    Carolyn/A Southerner's Notebook

  6. Found the book, I knew I had it but had not pulled it out in a long time. Looked at the Roasted Chicken recipe. That is a little different and will be on my menu next week. I may pare it with a Mushroom Bread Pudding from Ina's new book, Foolproof. I have been wanting to try that recipe as well and think it will be a wonderful paring.

    Carolyn/A Southerner's Notebook


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