CLASSIC SCALLOPED POTATOES

Master Recipe

Scalloped potatoes are what Americans call sliced potatoes baked in a shallow dish with milk or cream. The French call them Gratin Dauphinoise - or Potatoes au Gratin. And there are variations: they may be prepared with cheese, or cooked in broth instead of milk or other dairy liquid. The technique may include starting them on the top of the stove, or they may be baked entirely in the oven. Here are the 4 basic elements to consider before you begin, followed by a classic rendition of the recipe, along with a few variations. Be sure to listen to the show for the ENTIRE story! This dish is a BIG favorite with almost everyone!

The Potato:
There is no consensus among cooks about which potato is best for this dish. Some prefer a high-starch “baking potato,” which will be softer - almost cakelike - after cooking (it absorbs the most liquid); others prefer the low-starch “waxy” or boiling potatoes, such as red potatoes or white rose, because they hold their shape (absorb less liquid) and remain firm. I have selected the Yukon Gold potato for this recipe, because it seems to me to have the best characteristics of each type: it’s tender, has a little less starch than a baking potato and a slightly lower water content than the waxy variety, so it’s tender, but will hold its shape. My second choice would be a baking potato - but you may choose whichever variety you prefer - they all work in this dish.

The Slice:
A very thin cut ( 1/16 inch) results in a very soft finished gratin. A thicker cut (1/4 inch) will be very firm, and take longer to cook. The perfect slice is about 1/8 inch thickness - almost imposssible to achieve without use of a mandoline (the V-Slicer will make either a 1/16” or a 1/4” slice). Do the best you can, by hand or by machine - but make the slices of uniforn thickness so they’ll cook evenly. [See the first Cook's Note below the recipe instructions.] In this recipe, I do not rinse the starch from the sliced potatoes, which helps to thicken the sauce; but that way, the potatoes must be sliced immediately before layering - to prevent discoloration. If you slice them earlier, and place them in water, be sure to pat them VERY dry before using.

The Baking Pan:
This is a crucial element: the pan should be shallow - it’s material is less important. Glass, enameled iron, ceramic/earthenware, lined copper all work well. The potatoes (no more than 2-3 layers) should come about 3/4 of the way up the sides of the pan, so there’ll be room for bubbling, and they’ll cook evenly and have a broad top surface to brown.

The Liquid:
Milk is the classic liquid for scalloped potatoes, but half and half or cream may be used. When half and half (or, to a lesser extent, cream) is used, care must be taken that it does not bubble or boil too much (keep the temperature low) - which can cause it to break and curdle. [See second Cook's Note, below the recipe instructions.] Low-fat dairy products have little flavor - but for the calorie-conscious, a wonderful dish can be made using a good broth or stock instead of milk products.










SERVES 4

You will need: a 2-quart baking pan, about 2 inches deep, and about 8” X 14” for 2 pounds of potatoes. The classic pan is oval, but any shape may be used.
2 pounds, Yukon Gold potatoes (about 4 yukon-gold-size potatoes, or about 6 cups sliced)
1-2 cloves, garlic - peeled and minced
salt and fresh pepper
a pinch of nutmeg (or a very light grating of fresh nutmeg for each layer)
1 1/2 cups, half and half (or whole milk) {see Cook's Note, below recipe instructions]
about 2 tablespoons, butter - cut into bits









Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly butter the baking dish and sprinkle minced garlic over the bottom. Slice the potatoes, and layer them immediately (without rinsing them) in the baking dish. Sprinkle each layer with salt, pepper, and a small amount of nutmeg. You will have about 3 layers of potatoes. Drizzle over the half and half - it should barely cover the potatoes. Dot the top with butter.

Bake in the middle of the preheated oven for about 1 1/2 hours, basting occasionally, until potatoes are tender. [Time will vary depending on thickness of potato slices.] Allow to stand for 5-10 minutes before serving.



COOK'S NOTE: A Food News listener who is a chef wrote to suggest that, for those who have a high liquidity factor (water on the bottom) in their scalloped (also called "au gratin") potatoes, an excellent solution is to blanch the potatoes before assembling the dish. That is to say, put the potato slices into boiling water for a short time, then drain them and pat them dry before assembling the dish. The side benefits are that this method reduces cooking time, and permits assembling the dish the day before you cook it.

COOK'S NOTE: Recent research has revealed that store-bought half and half (because of the emulsification process it undergoes to keep its two components from separating) is more likely to curdle than a homemade mixture of half milk and half cream. The same caution described above should be exercised when using either half and half or cream - that is, be careful that the heat is not too high, so that the liquid does not boil.


Variations:
Potatoes, along with the half and half and seasonings, may be gently simmered on top of the stove for a few minutes, until the liquid thickens - or even longer, until the potatoes are almost tender - before baking. Then they are poured into the baking pan, dotted with butter on top, and baked as directed. This speeds up the baking process, and ensures even seasoning.

Cheese may be added between layers and/or to the top of the dish. If added to the top of the dish, sprinkle over about 1/3 cup, grated Swiss or Gruyere cheese after baking is completed, then place the baking dish 4-5 inches beneath a hot broiler until browned and bubbling.

About 1/3 cup of heavy cream may be drizzled over the gratin for the last 30-40 minutes of baking, to form a distinctive brown crust.

4 ounces of blue cheese may be thoroughly blended (until smooth) into about 1/2 cup of half and half and added between layers and on top, before the plain half and half is drizzled over.

American scalloped potato recipes often call for about 1 tablespoon of flour to be sprinkled between each of the two lower layers (not the top) of the dish. This technique works well if “boiling” potatoes are used - it helps absorb their extra moisture.