Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Gratin dauphinois

One of the easy aspects of cooking gratin dauphinois is that oven temperatures ranging from gas mark "S"/130 C to gas mark 5/190 C will work. One of the difficult aspects is that you want the cream to have reduced and thickened to exactly the right consistency at the time when you are ready to eat.

At the weekend, I placed the gratin above a slowly roasting shoulder of lamb for two hours. After that time, I had planned to let the lamb rest for 30 minutes, allowing me to turn up the oven if the liquid in the gratin needed further reduction. But it did not. I covered it in foil, and put it in the lamb's place on the oven floor.

With a clear oven, I usually cook the gratin for about 90 minutes at gas mark 3/160 C.

For 6

12 charlotte potatoes (small to medium ones)
284 ml double cream
1/2 clove garlic, chopped
Pinch nutmeg

Peel the potatoes (waxy varieties such as charlotte work best, I think), slice them thinly, and place them in the cream in a saucepan of the same diameter as your gratin dish. Add milk, if necessary, so that the potatoes are just submerged. Add the garlic, nutmeg, and a little salt; over a gentle flame, bring the contents of the pan to a simmer. Tip into a buttered gratin dish, arranging the potatoes and pushing them down to cover them in liquid.

Bake at gas mark 3/160 C for about 90 minutes, until the potatoes are sitting in thickened, wobbly cream.


WillSkid said...

Funnily enough I cooked this dish just the other day. Out of habit, I always wash the starch off the potatoes by putting them in a saucepan of water (once sliced) and letting cold water run slowly into it.Then I pat them dry with a tea towel (this takes ages as you have to do them in small batches). It makes sense with starchy potatoes, but maybe it isn't so necessary with waxy ones (as I used the other day). What do you think? The only way to test it, of course, would be to cook two gratins with identical ingredients. I don't usually heat the potatoes and cream first before putting them in the gratin dish - I just cook them from cold. I quite like doing this, because it means you can layer the potatores in the pan more neatly, and also season between each layer. Finally, what do you think about the old rubbing the gratin dish with garlic trick? Elizabeth David said something amusingly derisory about this practice (though in reference to salads not gratins): 'The grotesque prudishness and archness with which garlic is treated in this country has led the the superstition that rubbing the bowl with it before putting the salad in gives sufficient flavour. It rather depends on whether you are going to eat the bowl or the salad.'

Nicholas Clee said...

I love the David quote. My tastebuds are rather crude: I always err on the side of overdosing on an ingredient, not being one for subtle hints. Perhaps if the surface of your gratin dish is slightly abrasive, rubbing a clove on it would release flavour; but my dishes are smooth.

I think that some starchiness is part of the appeal of the dish, giving body to the liquid. I never bother to wash the potatoes first. Potatoes such as King Edwards go mushy in a gratin, whereas Charlottes retain a pleasing texture.

That's a good point about not needing to heat the gratin in a saucepan first -- although it may take half an hour or more to come to simmering point in the oven. The potatoes in my pan are a disorderly jumble, which I arrange as best I can.