With Thanksgiving just a drop of a leaf away, it’s time to start planning the feasting menu. Since Diane and I are always working the day before and the day after, we stay local and spend Thanksgiving with Diane’s family.
The menu is a classic ethnic Thanksgiving, where traditional dishes are entwined with cultural ones. Turkey, stuffing, potatoes, cha gio (eggrolls), nuoc cham for everything, bun bo hue. Diane’s mom takes care of the Vietnamese dishes & we’ll do the American (although sometimes we’ll help a bit with the Viet, too). There is no way that we would get to do everything ourselves. Stampeding horses couldn’t keep Diane’s mom from cooking. Us either.
One “everyone-will-boycott-if-it-isn’t-there” dish that is demanded are my legendary Potatoes Au Gratin. I don’t say this lightly. These Potatoes Au Gratin are bad-ass. Just ask Matt what he thinks about this dish.
Simplicity can be heavenly, especially when you use good technique, and that completely surmises this Potatoes Au Gratin recipe (when they are this good, they should always be capitalized.) It is just a handful of ingredients, the prep is simple and as long as you remember to tend to your taters a couple times as they cook, they are utterly phenomenal.
Because of the simplicity of the ingredients, the little details make all of the difference in the final outcome. Skip the garlic rub on the baking dish & the flavors won’t be complete. If you use pre-ground pepper and nutmeg instead of the fresh cracked and grated stuff, it won’t taste the same. Same if you use regular table salt instead of sea salt or even Kosher salt. Not quite as tasty.
If you are using the pre-ground stuff (please try not to, but sometimes circumstances will dictate that you have to) cut back on the measurements because each of the ingredients in this recipe have more fluff then their commonplace counterparts.
For the potatoes, good Russets are the best economical choice but if you want to go high-end, grab some Yukon Golds or something similar (75% of the time we use Russets.) Get the best cream you can (all creams are not equal), then remember to tend to the potatoes as they cook. A few times while they bake, with the back of a large spoon you’ll break the crust the cream is starting to form.
This will allow the cream to slowly cook into the potatoes without burning on top and it helps keep the top layer of potatoes from drying out as everything bakes. For the last 20-30 min. you’ll leave everything untouched so it will develop a final finishing crust. The final Potatoes Au Gratin will have a heavenly texture of softened, creamy layered potatoes topped with a golden slightly firmer crust.
Step-by-Step Pictorial for Potatoes Au Gratin
slice the potatoes nice & thin
use fresh nutmeg, fresh cracked black pepper & sea salt for best taste
layer in all the potatoes @ 1 1/2″ high (doesn’t have to be too precise) & pour in cream
check the cream level by pressing on the potatoes
How to “Break The Crust” – keeping potatoes moist & creamy
(above)– 1st crust break (about 20 min cook time) ~ the cream is just starting to form a crust
(above) 2nd crust break (about 40 min cook time) ~ the cream crust is starting to show some color
(above) 2nd crust break -gently swirl & break up crust on sides & center to moisten all the top potatoes
(above) 3rd crust break (about 1 hour cook time) – the crust is starting to brown
(above) 3rd crust break – last crust break, same 2nd break, swirl & re-moisten top. Now time to bake for final crust.
above (about 1 1/2 hr cook time) – Bad-Ass Finale!! Perfect crust & oh so creamy good inside
Let’s get the sharing going. What are everyone’s must have’s on their Thanksgiving table? If you’ve got it posted (from past or present posts) put the link in your comments for everyone to see. We’d love to see all of your favorites.
Potatoes Au Gratin Recipe
Total Time: 2 hours
All ingredients are approximations. Learn to cook this recipe by feel and it becomes very easy to make smaller or larger dishes to suit the occasion.
- 4 lbs. Potatoes
- 2 whole Garlic Cloves
- 1 - 1 1/2 T Sea Salt, or Kosher Salt
- 2 t fresh cracked Black Pepper
- 3/4 t freshly grated Nutmeg
- 2 1/2 c Heavy Cream
Preheat oven to 350°F
- Crack the garlic cloves break them up slightly then rub the insides of a 9"x11" baking dish. Set aside.
- Peel and thinly slice the potatoes - @ 1/8" thick. Put the sliced potatoes into a large bowl.
- Season potatoes with sea salt, black pepper, and nutmeg. Get your hands in there and toss the slices to coat evenly. Slap a potato slice against your tongue to test for seasoning. It should be noticeably seasoned but not overpoweringly so.
- Layer potatoes into prepped baking dish, smoothing the top so everything is fairly level. Pour cream over potatoes just to the point where you can press down on the top layer and the potato slices disappear under the cream. Give a couple presses down on the potatoes then taste cream for seasoning again. You should just marginally taste the salt. Add a sprinkle more if needed.
- Put in the oven and bake for a total of about 1 1/2 hours (larger batches will take longer, of course). Every 20 minutes or so, open oven and with the back of a large spoon, break the crust the cream is starting to form. On the final "crusting breaking" the consistency of the cream should noticeably thicker and have absorbed into the potatoes a decent amount. For the final 20-30 minutes, leave everything untouched to form a golden top. Cream should be nearly all broke down and absorbed with just a bit of creamy, buttery-ness between the potato slices.
- Remove from oven allow to cool a bit before serving. It will retain a napalm-like heat for at least 10-15 minutes.
Lay down newspaper on counter tops and peel potatoes over the newspaper. When all done - Roll up and compost or throw away~instantly clean counters!
If you are doing a large batch, put the peeled potatoes in a bowl of water to keep them from browning.
This is also a great time to hone your knife skills, but for a cheater method, slice with a mandolin or food processor slicing blade. Personally I prefer slicing by hand - it's a bit meditative with the added risk playing with a sharp knife.