Gratin Dauphinois, or Potatoes Gratin, is one of my most favorite dishes to prepare. For a while, the only visual that came to mind was the Betty Crocker version that came with the bag of pre-sliced chip-looking potatoes and packaged seasoning. All that changed while on a trip to Paris that changed my life.
Two good friends invited me to a cooking class while we were on a trip to Paris together, enjoying time in Europe. Without even hesitating, I booked the last seat in the class.
The chef guiding the class started the tour by introducing us to a popular street market. This street market sold everything from fresh fish to fresh vegetables and delicious uncultured cheeses. Venders even offered hand woven scarves and handbags. Hand crafted one-off pieces that couldn’t be found anywhere, but at this unique street market.
He offered three amazing options for three separate courses. My group selected stuffed oysters with a béchamel sauce, pork with potatoes au gratin and turnips. Our dessert, an upside-down apple pastry. Insanity.
I. EXPERIENCING POTATOES GRATIN IN FRANCE
There was something so beautiful and exciting to me about taking a cooking class in France and learning how to cook from a chef educated in Europe. He spoke of himself so proudly, that I’m certain he made mention of a Michelin star. The accent was the icing on the cake. This was a dream. That was until we started the class..
My cooking class was like an episode from Hell’s Kitchen, fast forwarded on 2x. While I did walk away from the class feeling educated, I couldn’t help but notice we basically did all the grunt work (Peeling the potatoes, chopping the vegetables, slicing potatoes) while he had all the fun. The actual cooking, breaking down seasonings, preparing literally everything. Luckily, he was very detailed in explaining the process, the seasonings used and when. It was obvious to us all that this chef was extremely passionate about his class. This is something everyone can appreciate. His passion even showed when cutting improperly, whisking cream in circles rather than a figure eight and around the pan and not peeling the potatoes right side up. Apparently, that is… a thing?
Either way, the guy was so serious about his craft, I walked away feeling like I, myself, had earned a French degree in culinary arts. That day I enjoyed a delicious authentic French cuisine prepared with a group of great people. I walked away with a new skill set and an insane addiction to potatoes gratin. The real ones too, not the Betty Crocker bagged potato chips. The ink couldn’t dry fast enough on my faux French culinary degree before I was in William’s Sonoma buying a mandoline ..from France. Boom.
I’ve made potatoes gratin probably eight or nine times since my trip to France. The more I create it, the faster I become and the better the recipe gets. I figured it would be pretty exciting to share a recipe of potatoes gratin as I’ve learned it from a culinary chef in France. I hope when you try it, you love it—without having to experience Hell’s Kitchen for yourself!
II. POTATOES GRATIN CAJUN STYLE
As mentioned before, I have made this quick potatoes gratin recipe many, many times. I’ve made this recipe with bacon and with parmesan cheese! (I actually love the idea of creating a Potatoes Gratin gruyere or potatoes gratin with ham) I’ve made the sauce with different types of cream cheeses and milks just to see how it would taste! I’m almost certain that if that chef knew I was experimenting with his five star recipe, he would be yelling about it. I kinda like the idea of that .. 😉
My most favorite and consistent adjustment to this recipe was when I finally decided I would make it with a cajun twist. This potatoes gratin recipe includes cajun flavors that compliment the creaminess of this dish and resulted in a flavor to be marveled at.
Potatoes are packed with starch and they will oxidize, or turn brown/grey once exposed to fresh air. You could opt to slice the potatoes and sit them in cold water to prevent oxidation, or you could slice them after you have created your cream mix.
When whisking together the heavy cream with the flour/butter mix — take your time and integrate the two ingredients well. The more successful you are at mixing these two together, the less your mix will taste like flour. You don’t want your mix to taste like flour.
Add your seasonings after you have successfully integrated the heavy whipping cream with the flour/butter mix.
Cut half a clove of garlic and rub the juices against the ovenproof dish you will be using. Do this generously. Once you have applied the garlic, follow this same step with butter. Applying the garlic before the butter will allow the flavor to stick to the dish.
Wash and clean your potatoes. Use a peeler to remove the skin from the potato, dragging the peeler from top to bottom in one clean stroke. Using a mandoline, slice your potatoes into thin slices and allow to sit in cold water.
Using a 3-quart, or any deep saucepan with medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter. This will be used to create the thickening agent (roux) that uses equal parts butter/flour. Once the butter is almost completely melted, add 1 tablespoon of flour and mix together until a paste forms. Continue to mix until both flour and butter are completely integrated together.
To your roux add 1 cup of heavy cream and whisk together until your roux has been completely mixed into the heavy cream. You will want to whisk by creating a figure 8 in the saucepan, then doing a clean sweep across the outer walls of the saucepan. Bring your whisk back to the middle and repeat. This may take some time, as you want to make sure that you fully integrate the two ingredients together. When these two ingredients are integrated well, there will be no "flour" taste to the cream sauce. This is what you want.
Once cream sauce is completely mixed, add seasonings: 2 teaspoons of cajun seasoning, 1¼ teaspoons of salt and ¼ teaspoons of nutmeg. Mix well and bring your heat to low.
This would be an excellent time to start dressing your baking pan. The time it would take to rub the garlic and butter against the walls and base of the pan would allow the cream sauce to cool from medium to low and rest, while your seasonings are settling. This would also be a great time to slowly drizzle the truffle oil, should you choose to use some! Once you have dressed your baking pan, set to the side.
In a large bowl, add the ¼ cup of sour cream. Slowly mix in the cream sauce mixture to the sour cream until completely mixed. Remove your sliced potatoes from the water and mix with the cream sauce. Be sure to get in-between those stubborn slices of potatoes that are stuck together.
Slowly transfer your potatoes to the baking dish and and press them down to ensure they are covered with a thin layer of cream. If you don't have enough cream to cover the potatoes with a thin layer, add the remaining cream sauce until you have just enough to cover.
Place in the oven and bake uncovered for about 40-45 minutes.