How to make gratin dauphinois – recipe

Is there any culinary pleasure like a creamy, carby dish of dauphinoise potatoes? Well, perhaps a mound of buttery mash, a fluffy jacket potato with melted cheese or a big pile of chips with rich, yellow mayonnaise – consider this the fancy French dinner party version of all of the above. That said, you don’t need to use guests as an excuse; I’d eat it straight from the dish in my pyjamas.

Prep 35 min
Cook 40 min
Serves 4

750g waxy potatoes (see step 1)
250ml double cream
100ml whole milk
2 garlic cloves
Nutmeg

Butter, to grease
50g gruyere, grated (optional)

A waxy variety is preferable here, because they keep their shape once cooked; flourier spuds of the kind usually sold for mash or chips will still be delicious (indeed, some chefs seem to prefer them), but they’re likely to disintegrate, which I think turns the dish a bit stodgy. Charlottes, desiree, estima and maris peer are all widely available and good for dauphinois.

Peel and cut the potatoes into thin slices – you can do this by hand, if you’re a glutton for punishment, but I’d recommend using a food processor or, better still, a basic mandoline (if you go for that last option, though, please do use the guard; the first time I made this dish, I got all gung-ho and sliced off the end of my finger).

Put the cream and milk into a large, wide pan.

Peel and crush the garlic into the pan, add a good grating of nutmeg, season generously and bring to a simmer.

Add the potatoes, turn down the heat and leave to cook gently for about 10 minutes, until they’re slightly softened but not cooked through; the exact time will depend on the thickness of the potato slices, so keep an eye on them.

Take an oven dish that’s just big enough to hold all the potatoes and grease it with butter. Heat the oven to 180C (160C fan)/350F/gas 4. Pour the potato and dairy mixture into the greaseed dish and spread out to fill it evenly.

Cover with foil, and bake for 30 minutes.

Lift off the foil and sprinkle the cheese, if using, over the top – though it’s not very French, you could substitute the gruyere for parmesan (in which case, use a little less) or even a mild cheddar, if you prefer.

Either way, bake uncovered for a further 10-15 minutes, until browned and bubbling. Remove and leave to cool slightly before serving.

For me, the creamy blandness is one of the chief pleasures of gratin dauphinois, but if you fancy more assertive flavours, add some sprigs of woody herbs – thyme, rosemary or bay – to the milk in step 3; or, an idea from chef Stevie Parle, mash in four anchovies (I’d do this in the greased dish, then stir in a little of the hot cream before pouring in the potatoes and the rest of the dairy mixture).

Try replacing half the potatoes with peeled and thinly sliced celeriac, squash or sweet potato. For a more substantial meal, chuck in some bacon lardons; or do as Nigel Slater does and tuck smoked mackerel chunks between the layers of potato; or keep it meat-free by melting a whole (vegetarian) camembert or goat’s cheese on top. Whatever you do, serve with a sharply dressed green salad.

This can be made in advance. Cook it up to the point when you add the potatoes to the dish, then leave to cool, cover and refrigerate until you’re ready to bake – don’t worry if the potatoes on top slightly discolour where they’ve been exposed to the air, because that won’t show in the finished dish. Bring back to room temperature before cooking as above.

Replace the milk and cream with 350ml vegetable or chicken stock, and scatter a peeled and thinly sliced onion between the layers of potato. You can easily make this vegan by greasing the dish with oil instead of butter, and replacing the cheese in step 5 with breadcrumbs tossed in olive oil and salt.

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