Potato

Todd Coleman's Potato Gratin

December 24, 2014

Every week -- often with your help -- Food52's Executive Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: A potato gratin that cooks in half the time, can be made ahead, and -- best of all -- lets you have control all the way through.



There's an ideal potato gratin that we will always be striving for, and -- until now -- couldn't ever be quite sure we'd get: tender but not mushy potato slices, stacked like a heap of slippery magazines, hugged by but not set adrift in cream, with a bubble-pocked, golden, melty top.

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It should be salted just enough to frame the potato and cheese flavors distinctively, without making you thirsty. It should cut somewhat neatly and stay to its corner of the plate, not flooding into the prime rib corner or the Yorkshire pudding corner.



All of these considerations present a number of pretty big question marks when you start a potato gratin the traditional way, from an entirely raw state: How much liquid will the potatoes absorb in the oven? How much salt will be just right for them? Will the cheese incorporate or break free, birthing puddles of floating grease? Will any extra influences like garlic or onions melt in successfully, or stay sharp and undercooked? How long will this whole endeavor actually occupy your oven, and, if you've mistimed, how long can it afford to sit and wait?



Of course it's not going to be bad -- it's potatoes swishing around in cheese and cream. It could be under-salted and half-burnt, and it will still not be bad. In the words of Todd Coleman, co-founder of Delicious Contents, former creative force at Saveur and Tasting Table, and author of this recipe, "It's ooey-gooey-yummy potato gratin -- it's going to taste good no matter what." The only real problem with potato gratin was that we didn't entirely know what was coming, and therefore couldn't force it to be the gratin we wanted. Now we can!



Coleman uses a smarter method, picked up from an instructor at the CIA who had no patience for the by-the-book technique. It saves time (great), most notably oven time (even better), and also the trouble of layering rings of potato, only to watch them float up with the milk, and then poke them back down. But I think the biggest improvement is that you can seize back control of your gratin.

 

Here, you'll cook the whole thing most of the way through on the stovetop. While you stir and it simmers, the potato starch will slough off and the cream's water weight will steam away, both cooking the potatoes and thickening the liquid around them.

Taste as you go and pretty quickly you'll know what you'll be getting, before you commit to dumping it into the baking dish. Yes, the potatoes will absorb a bit more liquid and the whole thing will cling together more after it goes in the oven, but you've got a much clearer picture than you otherwise would. If it seems bland, add more salt. If it's too dry, a splash more cream. Way too liquidy? Cook it down more or spoon some off.

At this point, you can even halt the process and hold it for a few hours, or in the refrigerator overnight, then whenever you're ready to cook it, strew cheese over the top and reheat it at 400° F, till the top frizzles and the middle is warmed through.

Either way, since it's mostly cooked already, the gratin won't need to take over your oven all afternoon, and will finish in about the time your roast might like to rest, the ice water jug ought to be filled, the red wine opened to breathe, the bread sliced, the salad tossed.



"This is the kind of food you close your eyes to eat," our Social Media Manager Rachel Christensen said, after tasting the gratin pictured here, made exactly as written. But the extra flexibility and control also makes it adaptable -- something we'd be reluctant to do in the black box of traditional gratinery. Coleman sometimes adds hot sauce or fresh thyme, or uses a Dutch oven to make it truly one-pot and oven-to-table. You can switch in a different type of potatoes, dairy, or allium, if that's what you have. And if you don't have the right size pan, you can scale up without worry. Or down -- but why would you do that?

Todd Coleman's Potato Gratin

Adapted slightly from "Gratin Made Easy" (Saveur, December 2006)

Serves 6

5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 to 2 garlic cloves
Salt
6 large waxy potatoes (about 2 1/2 pounds), such as red bliss, peeled and sliced about 1/8-inch thick
2 cups half-and-half
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh nutmeg
1 cup grated Gruyère

See the full recipe (and save it and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

Photos by James Ransom

 

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21 Comments

Chef-or December 23, 2015
Does anyone know how long this can be held in the frig? The recipe says "even over night"- what about 2 or 3 days?
 
Erin B. December 24, 2015
I just made this again for the 3rd time at Thanksgiving. I made it on the Monday of Thanksgiving week, complete with the Gruyere (I also added some freshly grated Reggiano to the Gruyere), par-baked it covered with foil for 40 minutes. Then I let it cool, covered it with cling-wrap, and stuck it in the fridge until Thanksgiving morning. That morning at 9 AM I finished baking it until it was deep golden brown (I didn't pay attention to how long that took - sorry). Then I let it sit on my dryer (a warm area) covered with foil until we served dinner at 2 pm. I think the extra sitting-in-the-fridge time and sitting-on-the-dryer-time, actually improved this recipe. I didn't have any of the soupy liquid that I had the other two times I've made it, since it had a chance to really reabsorb all of the cream.
 
Connie T. October 7, 2015
Yeah, Gruyere is too pricey for my budget. Any suggestions for a sub? I can't wait to try this one!
 
Jacqueline C. December 13, 2016
Parmesan!
 
susiebvd October 7, 2015
I have been making Rozanne Gold's recipe for many years http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/gratin-dauphinoise-108986. It has more cheese and is very easy to make. Yummy!
 
Jenny L. January 7, 2015
this was only ok. guess I don't care for swiss cheese in my gratin and I think I prefer russet potatoes. oh well.
 
daisybrain January 8, 2015
I used whatever potatoes I had around, probably yukons and Grand Cru Surchoix for the cheese. Make it your own.
 
lovehandles January 6, 2015
I don't doubt this is a time-saving, delicious recipe. But, cooks in search of the platonic ideal of the Gratin Dauphinois would do well to try Jeffrey Steingarten's method at least once. He offers the approach in meticulous detail in his second book, 'It Must Have Been Something I Ate'. The recipe is widely available online. If you follow his detailed directions, it's infallible; and it's exquisite.
 
Erin B. December 27, 2014
I made a fatal error - do NOT make the same mistake I did. I followed this recipe almost exactly except for 2 things: One, I doubled it to serve 12, which was fine. And two, I decided that instead of using half and half, which obviously has a 50/50 ratio, i would lighten things up just a bit and use a ratio of 3/4 whole milk to 1/4 heavy cream. Bad move. While the potatoes were cooked fine and the flavor was good, it was utterly lacking the silkiness of a gratin made with enough heavy cream. It actually had a watery quality that really detracted from the dish. I'll never again try to lighten up a gratin. It should just be enjoyed for the creamy, silky heaven that it is and shouldn't be messed with. It's not like we eat it every day.
 
jenniebgood December 27, 2014
Hi Kristen - This is, well....genius! LOVE the fact that you can make part of it ahead of time without the potatoes turning brown - I would never have thought of cooking them ahead in the liquids in the recipe. Congrats on your book!
 
daisybrain December 27, 2014
I studied with Todd at ICE. It was so much fun. Looking forward to trying this.
 
gabby December 26, 2014
I doubled the recipe for dinner yesterday. It's all gone. Delicious. A helpful hint: add oz to cheese requirements because buying Gruyere can be $$ and knowing about how much you need helps at the store (thanks to the cheese man at Berkeley Bowl for his suggestion).
 
Don G. December 25, 2014
I made this for Christmas and wowed my family. Very simple and I used a mandolin to get the potato thickness just right.
 
Deretta December 25, 2014
These were absolutely perfect! Will not make any other way again. Wonderful compliment to our prime rib Christmas dinner!
 
polly December 25, 2014
Looks great. But what delighted me was the writing. Wonderful. I have to make it now! You guys are great!
 
Annette L. December 25, 2014
These were not terribly hard to make and it was a MUCH easier process. Best of all they were just delicious! Thank you.
 
Barb M. December 24, 2014
Thank you, Mary! I found it.
 
Mary December 24, 2014
Found the print option buried in the recipe. https://food52.com/recipes/32682-todd-coleman-s-potato-gratin. Please put the option at the top / bottom of the page in the future. Thanks!
 
Barb M. December 24, 2014
Would also like Print option!<br />
 
Mary December 24, 2014
No print option for this recipe? Really?? It looks delish. Some of us like to work off a paper copy.
 
FloridaGal December 24, 2014
Our local supermarket, Publix, published a recipe years ago in which they first microwaved the slices in water until they're al dente, then drain and pat dry and carry on with your recipe from there. It probably wouldn't be as creamy as this, but it's another way to go especially if you're short on time. Merry Christmas all!