By nature I’m a lazy cook, meaning I’ll short-cut a method wherever I can…only have to look at my no-knead bread efforts to get that but here I do the opposite, I’ll add an extra step. I see lots of recipes for potato dauphinoise where the potato is layered in the serving dish and the milk and cream is poured over, it goes into the oven. I would like to try and convince anyone to take the extra hassle of putting the slices of potato first in a pan containing the milk and cream before transferring them to its baking dish.
I learned this method through following a Roux Brother’s recipe about 20 years ago and since then I’ve also read other recipes doing it this way, including the likes of Heston Blumenthal, but even more importantly than Heston, recipes from people from the region of where potato dauphinoise originates.
Why would I bother with the extra work of dirting a pan? Firstly, starting off with the potatoes in the pan cuts down on the time in the oven, but that’s not my reason. It’s to do with what happens to the slices of potatoes while heating up in the pan.
The Roux Brother’s Way
The idea of this dish for me is that you want as much as possible for the potato to be surrounded by the other main ingredient; the cream. When eating a forkful I have the taste of creamy potato.
Bringing the milk and cream to the boil and adding the potatoes and bringing it to a simmer for a couple of minutes has the following effect; the starch in the potatoes thickens the liquid, that thick liquid will cling on to the outside of the potato as its surface is beginning to breakdown through the partial cooking. While this is happening because you’ve season the cream mixture well the potatoes are also being season properly throughout, tasting all the better for it.
Just have a look below at the photograph and see how the cream has been thickened with the starch released from the potatoes and has now enveloped the individual slices of potatoes, sticking to them like glue…you’re aiming for a film of cream between each potato.
The Short-Cut Way
The method of assembling the potatoes raw in the baking dish is fine but to me it doesn’t work so well. Even if you spoon the cream mixture over each layer of potato most of the liquid will be running off the surface and on to the bottom of the dish. The cold raw surface of the potato acts really well at making the cream slice away. By the time the dish is assembled and even if covered completely in liquid it’s not going to penetrate each slice of potato like the above method.
The worst short-cut method I’ve seen done by TV chefs was where all the potatoes are layered first and only at the very end you pour the cream mixture over it, this means in the middle of the dish where the potatoes stick together like starchy raw potatoes love doing won’t have a drop of cream around them…and what is the point in that…is what I say!
Just googling now for this dish I came across a method of boiling the potatoes in water first then layering in the dish with the cream. But again you’re loosing the lovely starchiness coming off the potatoes that will thicken the cream and cling on to the potato.
When you heat the potatoes in the cream you’re transferring flavour, from the seasoned cream to the potato but also the opposite is happening, the starchiness of the potato is being transferred to the liquid, and there is flavour in that potato starch.
Have I made a good case for this method yet?
In this post the photos are of two separate occasions I made the dish, the paler one cooked at just a tad lower than the top photo where it has more colour.
Cheese on Potato Dauphinoise, Garlic?
I’ve read strong views of whether a true potato Dauphinoise has cheese on it or just the cream. It states in the Larousse Gastronomique that within the area where the dish originates, Lans-en-Vercor, Villard-de-Lans, Autrans and Sassenage the dish is made cream, with the dish first rubbed with garlic, but that this dish is often made with eggs, milk and sprinkling of cheese on top.
No doubt about it, that cheese is a wonderful addition but personally I like it without it, I also think the cheese-less version goes better as an accompment to more foods than with added cheese, but it’s really personal choice.
I only like having a whiff of garlic by the way of rubbing a cut clove of garlic around the dish first, potato is bland and crushed garlic will overpower it…unless of course you’re aiming for garlic-potato dish.
To confuse things, in the Roux brother’s book where I learned this method, the potato dish is under the name of gratin Savoyard but this is not the gratin Savoyard dish I know. I e-mailed last year the sons of the Roux brothers since they have taken over their father’s restaurants to ask about the dish gratin Savoyard and they both differ slightly on their interpretation of that dish but both agree it’s not what’s in this book. That’s quite funny that both sons disagree with their dads on a dish.
In Larousse Gastronomique is states that Gratin Savoyard is from the neighbouring region where Gratin Dauphinoise comes from, but only contains layers of potato and Beaufort cheese with knobs of butter, covered with stock but has no milk, cream or eggs. This is what Bikerboy and I had when traveling through France on our way to Italy 8 years ago, I just didn’t know it was Gratin Savoyard!
This recipe is roughly following the Roux brother’s one from At Home With The Roux Brothers book, in their recipe they use only double cream but over time I’ve experimented with reducing the fat. You can try it with just single cream but I like it with a small amount of thicker cream, like whipping or double.
Serves 4-6. Pre-heat oven 120C / 250F / gas 1/2
- 1 kg peeled potatoes (you need to start off with about 1.3 kg)
- 1 clove of garlic, peeled
- 300 ml single cream
- 150 ml whipping or double cream (whipping has less fat)
- 350 ml full fat milk
- 1 teaspoon of fine salt
- freshly grated nutmeg – optional
- pepper, white or black ground (white if you don’t want black flecks)
- Cut the clove of garlic in half and dip it in salt and let it stand while you get on, the salt helps to draw out the juices you will use later to rub over the dish.
- Bring the milk and cream to a boil in a pan large enough to fit the potato slices, adding the salt, pepper and nutmeg.
- Slice the potatoes thinly, I use the thinest slicer on my food processor, this stage you want to hurry because the potatoes start to discolour.
- Add the potato slices to the pan, as you drop them into the liquid try and separate as many as you can. Bring the cream to a simmer, and gently simmer for 1-2 minutes.
- Using the cut clove of garlic rub it all over the baking dish. When the potatoes have had their time transfer them to the baking dish.
- Bake for an hour, potatoes are ready when you pierce through them and they’re soft.
Bring seasoned milk and cream to the boil, add slices of potatoes.
Bring it back to a simmer, and simmer gently for 1-2 minutes. Rub garlic over baking dish. Transfer potatoes to dish and bake for an hour.