The almighty humble potato. Today we will transform potatoes into a stunning dish called Potatoes Au Gratin; the French call this dish a few different names, which depend on which region the dish originates.
There are many variants of the name of the dish, including Pommes de Terre Dauphinoise, Potatoes à la Dauphinoise & Gratin de Pommes à la Dauphinoise.
⬇️ Table of Contents
Potatoes Au Gratin
Today's recipe is all about tradition and the traditional preparation of Potatoes Au
Today's recipe is all about tradition and the traditional preparation of Potatoes Au Gratin. This recipe could be looked at as a simple dish, yet also elegant with great depth of flavor that comes from a traditional Bechamel being prepared in the classic French way.
Often a Bechamel sauce is referred to as a "White Sauce," and they would be correct. But remember, a White Sauce is not a Bechamel. For a White sauce to become a Bechamel, certain steps and flavorings must be used to become traditional Bechamel Sauce.
What Does "Au Gratin" Mean?
Answer: To grate, usually with breadcrumbs or grated cheese. Classicly using Gruyere cheese.
Perfect Potato To Use
The first item on the list is selecting the correct type of potato. Not any potato will do the job. We explain your choices below.
The russet potato is one of the most popular in America, and for a good reason. They have a neutral flavor that doesn't overwhelm your dish like other potatoes sometimes can. They have a neutral potato flavor and a fluffy, creamy, and soft texture and are best for baking, mashing, and making French fries.
Yukon Gold Potatoes
These fluffy little guys are also known as "Chef White" potatoes and have a light and airy texture with a sweet flavor. They're perfect for boiling or baking and stand up well against other cooking methods like pan-roasting & grilling.
Potatoes To Avoid
Red Bliss: Waxy Potato
The red potato has bright skin and white flesh. It's slightly bitter to eat, but it can be used in many different recipes for soup or stew because of its firm texture that doesn't fall apart when cooked at high temperatures like other types might do so quickly because of their moisture content.
Potatoes have abundant nutritional value, including a high level of macronutrients, vitamins & minerals. One of the potato's greatest nutritional offerings is its carbohydrate content.
Potatoes contain both simple and complex carbohydrates and a substantial amount of dietary fiber. Most of the carbohydrates in potatoes are complex carbohydrates called starch. Potatoes also contain simple sugars, with glucose being the most prevalent.
How To Make Potatoes Au Gratin
First thing, Peel and slice your Russet potatoes. The reason we start with the potatoes is "Timing." When working in the kitchen, timing is everything. This is a skill where many cooks struggle.
At Butter-N-Thyme, "timing" is a focal point in our lessons. Sure we teach you how to make the recipes in the articles, but underneath, the goal is to empower our readers with solid culinary information and training, skills, tips & tricks.
Be sure to wash off the potatoes before peeling. I only cut off some of the outside peel in the photo below. This helps with the presentation. If you peel the potatoes, your dish could appear plain to some degree, with a lot of white space, but that also could be a good thing. Just something to consider. Plus, the potato skins are where most of the health benefits come from.
Use a standard peeler to create the striped potato cuts. Just peel down the length of the potato and alternate.
Chef Tip: Potatoes oxidize and turn color when left exposed to air. Place the sliced potatoes in a bowl filled with water until you're ready to build the casserole.
The Bechamel Sauce
I believe this step is sometimes overlooked in the way of importance. Potatoes Au Gratin is a classic preparation of potatoes sliced thinly and covered in a creamy traditional Bechamel sauce. The bechamel sauce is the key to this amazingly simple yet elegant potato dish.
Here's our article outlining everything you could need to know about making a proper Bechamel Sauce. I would like for you to watch the video as well. You'll be able to see the movement/motions that go into making a classic French sauce and, even more critical, the timing.
Sauce making is all the "timing."
Great! We now know everything that it takes to make a traditional Bechamel sauce. If you haven't experienced this sauce made the Classic French way, you will be pleasantly surprised. The flavoring takes the sauce up a notch.
How To Make The Bechamel Sauce
The first thing is "Mise en Place" (MEEZ ahn plahs) .
Prepping all the ingredients before beginning. If you wait to measure while making the sauce your "Timing" will not be perfect. Always measure and weigh out your ingredient before starting cooking.
Add 4 tablespoons of butter and melt. Then add 3 tablespoons of flour. We are making a Roux.
By definition, a Roux is equal parts fat and flour. When making a bechamel sauce, use a little less flour. The fat in the milk is the reason. This also allows for a longer time for the sauce to tighten up/thicken while the flavors develop.
While stirring, add in ⅓ of the Milk over medium-high heat.
Once the sauce thickens, add the remaining milk, and keep stirring.
Bring the sauce up to a soft bowl. Do not scald the milk.
Using a micro planer, shave in fresh nutmeg, around ⅛ tsp.
Prepare The Onion
When you're prepping the Potatoes, Prep the Onion then. Do not wait.
Cut the onion in half and remove the peel. Take 7 Cloves and remove the tops, the small ball that is attached. The flavor profile from the tops is too strong of a flavor. (I learned that one in culinary school, and it holds true.)
Next, place the onion in the sauce and cover to infuse flavor. The “Timing” is right after you finish stirring in the second edition of Milk and reach a soft boil. Turn off the heat before adding the Onion, then cover and wait around 5 minutes.
Take a taste. If you’re happy great. If not, allow more time to impart flavor. If the sauce tries to thicken too much, add a little bit more milk to thin the sauce out. Season with salt to taste. add a small pinch.
Building The Potato Au Gratin
First, cover the bottom of the casserole dish with Bechamel sauce, then add a small layer of cheese.
Next, add two layers of sliced potatoes in a shingled pattern.
Add Salt and Pepper and cover with a layer of Cheese and Bechamel sauce.
Keep repeating the process till you've reached the level you'd like for your casserole dish. Remember, don't overfill with bechamel sauce. That would affect your presentation.
Place on a cookie sheet. The casserole could bubble over. Another reason to not overfill with Bechamel sauce.
Bake for 45 minutes to one hour. Test with a fork for doneness.
When you've reached the correct doneness, turn on the broiler and brown the top of the Au Gratin.
Crack the oven door and keep an eye on it.
Wallah & Bon Appetit!
Post To Check Out
Can I Make This Dish Ahead of Time?
Yes, you can make Potatoes Au Gratin ahead of time by baking it until it is almost fully cooked, then storing it in the fridge. When you are ready to serve it, pop it in the oven to heat up and finish cooking.
What Other Types of Toppings Can I Use?
Any type of crunchy topping would work great with Potatoes Au Gratin, such as panko bread crumbs, crispy fried onions, or toasted nuts. You could also top it off with a sprinkle of fresh herbs.
Can I Use Sweet Potatoes Instead of Regular Potatoes?
Yes, you can use sweet potatoes for Potatoes Au Gratin. Just make sure to slice them very thin so that they cook evenly. You may need to reduce the cooking time slightly as well.
📖 Recipe Card
Classic Potatoes Au Gratin
- 3 Tablespoons All-Purpose Flour
- 4 Tablespoons High-Quality Butter
- 2 ½ Cups Whole Milk / Plus more to help control the thickness
- 7 Cloves
- ⅛ teaspoon Nutmeg
- ½ large Onion
- ½ teaspoon Thyme
- ½ teaspoon Minced Garlic
Potatoes Au Gratin Ingredients
- 4 large Russet Potatoes
- 1 ¼ cups Gruyere Cheese or Swiss /shredded
- 1 ½ teaspoon Sea Salt
- ½ tsp Black Pepper
- ½ larger Onion - Julianne Cut / Julianne cut onion, long thin slices.
- The Bechamel Roux: First melt butter over medium-high heat, then add the ½ teaspoon of minced garlic and cook in the butter.Then add the flour and coat the flour in the butter."Cook-Out" the raw flour. Allow the flour to absorb the butter. This will help ensure the bechamel sauce will not be grainy.
- Next, add in ⅓ of the milk and stir constantly. The sauce will try to thicken instantly. Add the remaining milk at this point, little by little. Keep stirring.All flour hydrates a little differently, meaning you many need more milk at this point. Add enough milk the sauce is a little bit loose.Allow the milk to come to a soft boil. (Soft boil means the bubbles are breaking the surface, but not a full boil)
- Once at a soft boil, turn off the heat and move the pot to another burner that is off. The sauce will thicken off the heat. If the sauce gets too thick for your purposes add a little more milk to thin out the sauce.Add the salt and pepper, then Nutmeg, to taste. Stir and incorporate.
- Onion Prep: Slice the onion in half, then press 9 to12 cloves into the exterior of the onion. Add the onion to the sauce with the clove side down.
- Cover the pot for a few minutes to allow the flavors to develop.
- Prepping the potatoes: First, wash the potatoes well under cold water. Using a mandolin or sharp knife, make thin slices. The thickness choice is up to you. I suggest ¼ to ⅛ inch slices. Remember the potato skin is where most of the health benefits reside. I took a peeler and removed only part of the skins. Make stripes going down the length of the potato. This helps with the presentation.
- Building the casserole: First, cover the bottom of your casserole dish with bechamel sauce. Using glass-bakeware is suggested for even cooking. The bechamel sauce acts to protect the potatoes from burning and sticking. Next, add two layers of potatoes. Lay the potatoes out with the second layer slightly covering the last potato. Shingle pattern. Then add a layer of cheese and follow covering with Bechamel sauce. Add more cheese next. Cut an onion julienne cut (long strips) adds more flavor and texture. Repeat the process till you've filled your casserole dish to the desired level. Add the remaining bechamel sauce on top to protect the potatoes. Don't drown the potatoes in sauce, helps with presentation. Cover with more cheese and place on a cookie sheet to prevent bubbling over.
- Preheat Oven 375 (could do 400) both work
- Cook for 45 to one hour. All ovens are different and the depth of everyone's cookware will be different.
- Test for doneness. Poke with a fork. If soft enough, turn on the broiler to brown the top. Be sure to keep an eye on this process as the potatoes au gratin could burn. Crack the oven door so you can see what's happening.
- Allow the casserole to cool for 10 minutes before serving.
History of Potatoes Au GratinThe Potato au Gratin goes back to 1894 when it was popularized in France by the French Chef Louis Diat at the New York Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
Louis Diat is recorded as having said that he created the dish after eating something similar at a dinner party in Paris.