Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Potato Gratin

For a while now, I've been craving potatoes. Whether it be potato salad, baked potatoes, rostis, or even potato chips, I want it. My mom (a.k.a. Chef of the House) doesn't cook it much. Sometimes she adds it into Japanese curry and we eat it with rice, or she might cook taro (another root vegetable and similar in texture to potatoes) but adds pork and other flavorings that outshine the humble tuber.

A few weeks ago, I was reading one of my favorite food blogs and I stumbled on mouthwatering picture of potato gratin. It stayed on my mind for a while. I've also recently cracked open On Rue Tatin by Susan Loomis and she incessantly talks about the ease of making potato gratin during her summer months in Normandy, I can only assume it's a sign to roll up my sleeves and make gratin.

So last Sunday became A Day in Potato Heaven. I delegated Minh to peel the potatoes, I sliced them and buttered a glass pan, layering each slice followed by a liberal sprinkling of salt, pepper and swiss cheese. Two more layers were piled on top, milk was poured over the potatoes and then dotted with butter. The dish was baked for about an voilĂ ! Out came a bubbling pan of golden potatoes crusted with cheese.

The great thing about this dish is the simplicity and flexibility. I didn't have enough cheese nor did I bother measuring exactly a cup of milk, but it worked. I used small yellow potatoes instead of large baking potatoes which probably prolonged the preparation, but it turned out fine. Though the most difficult thing was waiting for the damn thing to cook (we were so hungry and began scavenging the kitchen for something to nibble on).

I was too excited for the gratin that I inhaled through the appetizer of apple and fennel salad and helped myself to a generous serving of potatoes. I moaned with pleasure after each forkful. It was amazing earth shattering. Each satiny layer of potato congealed with nutty cheese sang a harmonious symphony in my mouth. Between bites, I wondered: Why hasn't anyone told me of the unbelievable wonders of potato gratin? Who has been keeping it a secret? Why keep it a secret? Sharing is caring. But I know the only fair question is: Why didn't I just make this sooner?

It was so good we finished the entire pan of potatoes, with me scraping the crusty bits of cheese and eating it guiltily under Minh's disapproving glare (its the best part!). I'd try adding minced garlic, cooked spinach, or even dashes of thyme to spruce up the gratin. And maybe I'd get started on preparing the dish earlier, to avoid the risk of a hypoglycemic episode.

Potato Gratin
Adapted loosely from Smitten Kitchen, original recipe from Alice Waters’s Art of Simple Food

1 lb of potatoes (large, yellow-fleshed)
2 oz. of shredded cheese (Gruyere, swiss, cheddar, mozzarella are great choices)
1 cup of milk (2% works well, or cream if you're feeling ambitious)
3 tablespoons of butter, cut into pieces, plus extra to butter the pan

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a 9- by 12-inch casserole dish with some butter. Slice the potatoes as thinly as you can (if you have a mandoline, that would be dandy) and arrange them in a layer, overlapping the edges just a tad.
Sprinkle the potatoes with salt and freshly ground pepper and be generous, most of the flavour comes in this crucial step. Add a third of the cheese and then repeat this process with your remaining potato slices.

2. Depending on how thinly sliced your potatoes are, you should end up with approximately three layers, with a third of the cheese between each layer. Reserve the last third of your cheese for later.

3. Carefully pour the milk over the potatoes. It should come up to the bottom of the top layer of potatoes; add more if this was not enough. Dot the top of the dish with the three tablespoons of butter and bake it for about an hour.

4. Halfway through the baking time, take the gratin dish out of the oven and gently press the potatoes flat with a spatula to keep the top moist. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the gratin for the last 15 minutes of baking. The gratin is done when the potatoes are soft and the top is golden brown. Eat with your friends and family, groaning while eating optional.
Recipe here!


  1. Nice! We interviewed and met Susan Loomis at our journalism program in Paris.

  2. Wow! That's awesome. What's she like? I'm actually having trouble getting through the third chapter, she's talking about run ins she's had with the local police...I just wanna read about food!