How to cook the perfect gratin dauphinois | French food and drink

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The dauphinois, a rich gratin of sliced ​​potatoes and cream, is not, unlike frying potato profiteroles that bewildered MasterChef candidates last year, named after royalty – but in my opinion, it deserves to be. Unless, of course, such an association leads to its extinction – a tragedy indeed.

It’s a shameless decadent dish that makes a great partner for spring lamb in this decidedly wintry weather, which I’m focusing on today. I found it more difficult than it sounds: previous attempts have been plagued by undercooked and soggy potatoes, drought, and horribly curdled cream. So how do you make a gratin dauphinois worthy of a… president?

Potatoes

Richard Olney’s gratin dauphinois.

There is an interesting difference of opinion here. Nigel Slater writes that “potatoes are generally of the yellow, waxy type, so the slices retain their shape, although some of us prefer the floury varieties that collapse,” but, apart from Richard Olney, writing in the masterful French Menu Cookbook, everyone from Michel Roux Jr to Stevie Parle go for the distinctly mellow tastes of Maris Piper.

Looking further, I find support for Elizabeth David and Raymond Blanc’s Slater Wax Potatoes, but there is still no clear consensus. I much prefer the firm type though: the floury potatoes turn fat in such a rich sauce, while the more robust Maris Peers or Charlottes provide a contrast in texture.

Whatever you use, it is essential, as Nick Nairn observes in his book Cook School, to get very thin slices, otherwise they will not cook, but it is almost impossible to do this with a knife. A mandolin needs to be deployed with care, as I discovered the hard way. One finger down, I would advise using a food processor if you have one with a suitable attachment.

The sauce

Stevie Parle's Le Dauphinois for Felicity Cloake
Stevie Parle’s Dauphinois.

That some sort of cream is involved is, I’m afraid, almost unfortunately inevitable – although some older recipes, including Escoffier’s, use eggs instead. I find the Olney sauce, made with milk and eggs, separates during cooking, into a firm, eggy (and very tasty) element, and a slightly less appetizing cream-colored liquid.

Roux Jr, who gives a beautifully simple recipe in his book A Life in the Kitchen, uses double straight cream, at room temperature – add the potatoes to it and you are ready to cook. It’s wonderfully rich and sticky, but maybe a bit heavy unless you plan on serving it in Michelin-starred miniature portions. The mix of milk and cream preferred by Nairn, Blanc, Parle and Bristol chef Josh Eggleton gives a warmer result.

It’s never a light dish though, and I find Eggleton’s version, which has more milk than cream, too thin – Parle and Nairn have the right idea, with an approximate 3: 1 double cream ratio. with milk. Remember, this is not something you are going to cook every day, unlike what you might like.

The kitchen

Gratin dauphinois - Version Michel Roux Jr by Felicity Cloake
The gratin dauphinois by Michel Roux Jr.

Roux’s straightforward approach is unusual: most of the other recipes I try either heat the milk and cream before adding them to the dish, as in Eggleton and Parle’s dishes, or like Nairn, do boil the potatoes in the dairy. He cooks them until they’re “almost tender,” and, with the floury variety he uses, this makes the finished dish slightly mushy – but the firm potatoes I use might require a bit. pre-cooking, then I’m going to boil them more briefly.

Cooking potatoes in the sauce also has the benefit of thickening it, as their starch seeps into the liquid. Starch is another tricky issue when it comes to dauphinois – Nairn, Roux Jr and Blanc strongly believe that the slices should not be rinsed before use, so that they retain the starch content as much as possible. , while Eggleton soaks his in water before use, and David writes that rinsing them with plenty of water is “most important.” However, I’m all for a thicker sauce, especially since my waxy potatoes are naturally less starchy than the more floury varieties and will need all the help they can get.

Gratin dauphinois - Cape of Felicity
Nick Nairn’s gratin dauphinois.

Eggleton does his dish, then press it in the refrigerator overnight before reheating it. It’s a clever way to make the sturdy little dauphinois patties favored by upscale restaurants, but useless if you just put the gratin dish on the table for everyone to argue.

The aroma

This is another one of those French dishes where it’s easy to change out your culottes for authenticity – Slater writes that “the restraint with the garlic will pay off. The dish only needs a light touch. bulb puff and wiping the base and sides before adding the potatoes produces something more authentic than adding them mashed or sliced. ” To hell with authenticity – I can barely taste the stuff in Roux Jr and Olney’s dishes, which have a pleasant, creamy sweetness. Adding it, crushed, to the dairy, like Nairn does, seems like a much better option for my rough Anglo-Saxon palate.

Josh Eggleton's gratin dauphinois.
Josh Eggleton’s gratin dauphinois.

Nutmeg, as used by Eggleton, Roux Jr and Olney, is a classic seasoning for creamy dishes, and therefore works wonderfully here. Anthony Bourdain infuses herbal cream in his Les Halles cookbook, and indeed, Speaks uses thyme in his gratin – I don’t want to add too much flavor to such a simple dish, but I like the idea of ​​the anchovies he also uses, which blend into the sauce to give the finished dauphinois a nice look tasty richness. A stroke of genius as far as I’m concerned, and particularly brilliant with lamb – fear of the French prevents me from adding them to the perfect version, but I invite you to try the idea if you are not anti- anchovy.

According to Larousse Gastronomique, cheese is however authorized: “You can add grated Gruyère: one layer on the bottom of the dish and another on top. Olney mixes hers with the sauce, but I’ll stick with a modest layer on top, like a real gratin. Two seems too much: after all, I have to think about my arteries.

Gratin dauphinois

Felicity Cloake's Perfect Gratin Dauphinois
Felicity Cloake’s perfect gratin dauphinois. Photography: Felicity Cloake for the Guardian

For 6 persons
750 g waxy potatoes
250 ml double cream
100 ml whole milk
2 small garlic cloves, crushed
Nutmeg, to grate
Butter, for greasing
50g grated Gruyere

Peel the potatoes and cut them into thin slices using a food processor or mandolin.

Place the cream and milk in a large saucepan with the garlic and a good amount of grated nutmeg and bring to a boil over medium-low heat. Season and add the potatoes, then lower the heat and simmer gently for about 10 minutes until tender, but not cooked.

Meanwhile, grease a gratin dish with butter, and heat the oven to 160 ° C / thermostat 3. Pour the potatoes into the dish and spread them out. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil, sprinkle the cheese on top and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes until golden and bubbly. Let cool slightly before serving.

The gratin dauphinois, a dish worthy of royalty, or just a large bourgeois French cuisine? And, inspired by Stevie Parle’s anchovies, what twists do you add to yours?

This article was modified on April 11, 2013. The initial introduction incorrectly stated that the gratin dauphinois was named after the French dauphin rather than the cuisine of the Dauphiné. This paragraph has been deleted. In addition, a reference to the River Café, renowned for its Italian rather than French cuisine, was also removed from the final note.


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