Scalloped Potatoes in Cast Iron

March  5, 2020
12 Ratings
  • Prep time 20 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Serves 4-6 people
Author Notes

Scalloped potatoes used to mean something else entirely. In the late 1800s, this term referred to mashed potatoes, covered in grated cheese, and baked in scallop shells. By the following century, the recipe moved into a baking dish, and eventually it evolved into the creamy gratin we expect today.

Most contemporary American scalloped potatoes recipes look a lot like the French gratin dauphinois. A version of this recipe appears in the famous Julia Child cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. There, she translates gratin dauphinois as “scalloped potatoes with milk, cheese, and a pinch of garlic.” It’s Julia’s excellent version that we used as a jumping-off point in developing our best scalloped potatoes recipe.

Like gratin dauphinois, scalloped potatoes include thinly sliced potatoes, milk and/or heavy cream, and a top layer that’s golden and crispy from the oven. But, there is actually little consensus on whether scalloped potatoes should include cheese, and how scalloped potatoes differ from a gratin or casserole. Several sources insist that scalloped potatoes shouldn’t include cheese, yet the majority of popular scalloped potatoes recipes on the internet do include cheese.

After weighing the pros and cons, we decided to add cheese—because scalloped potato enthusiasts expect as much, and roasted potatoes taste delicious with a layer of bubbly cheese on top. We considered using Gruyère or cheddar and, after trying both, went with Gruyère, due to its nutty-sweet flavor and A+ melting. If you can’t find Gruyère (or don’t like it), Comté or a quality Swiss cheese are also great options; you just want a cheese that’s deeply savory, pleasantly assertive, and doesn’t get too oily as it melts.

When it comes to potatoes, we chose to use Yukon Golds rather than starchier Russets. While Russets can break apart easily when sliced and baked, Yukons hold up well, and have a denser, creamier texture.

Now, what to cook these potatoes in? Milk can curdle when it simmers in the oven. The taste remains good, but it’s visually unappealing. Some recipes solve this problem by making a béchamel sauce, or milk gravy (milk thickened with a roux of butter and flour). We chose to simplify the process by using heavy cream instead. It yields a rich, savory flavor, is less work, and is gluten-free.

You could call it a day with just the cream, but a couple bonuses go a long way. For added flavor, we infuse it with a bay leaf and some minced garlic. Though these ingredients get strained out and discarded, their subtle flavor perfumes the finished dish. Fresh thyme is also used to add depth, as it’s sprinkled among the layers of potato. Of course, you can use rosemary or sage if you prefer, but we found that fresh thyme works best to compliment the potatoes without overwhelming the dish.

One final important note: When the scalloped potatoes come out of the oven, you should wait 20 to 30 minutes before serving. This is a dish that needs some time to settle, and actually tastes better warm than hot.
Josh Cohen

What You'll Need
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 2 bay leaves, fresh or dried
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated (about ½ cup)
  • Thinly sliced chives, to sprinkle on top (optional)
  1. Add the heavy cream, bay leaves, garlic, and 1 teaspoon salt to a small pot and set over medium heat. When the cream just begins to simmer, stir, and remove from the heat.
  2. Set a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 325°F. Grease a 9-inch cast iron skillet with the butter. Peel the potatoes, then carefully slice them on a mandoline to about ⅛-inch thick (if you don’t own a mandoline, do your best with a sharp chef’s knife). Use a fine-mesh strainer to strain the cream mixture; discard the garlic and bay leaf.
  3. You’re going to make four layers of potatoes in the cast iron skillet. For the first layer, shingle about a quarter of the potato slices (9 to 10 ounces) across the bottom; there should be no visible cast-iron. Season this layer with a robust amount of freshly ground black pepper (about 10 to 15 cracks from a peppermill), ¼ teaspoon of salt, and a small pinch of thyme (using about ¼ of your total amount of thyme). Evenly pour ¾ cup of cream on top.
  4. Repeat the above step three more times, until you’ve used up all the ingredients.
  5. Place the skillet on the middle rack and cook for 55 minutes, or until the top layer of potatoes just begins to turn golden brown. At that point, remove the skillet from the oven and set the oven to broil. Sprinkle the Gruyère on top and return the skillet to the middle rack in the oven. Cook until the top of the potatoes are deeply golden brown, approximately 3 to 5 minutes. Keep a close watch, because the cheese can quickly burn under the broiler.
  6. Let the scalloped potatoes rest for 20 to 30 minutes before serving. Just before digging in, garnish with freshly ground black pepper and (if you want) some chives.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Anne Cohen
    Anne Cohen
  • Josh Cohen
    Josh Cohen
  • Pennymoxie
  • Stephen P.
    Stephen P.

11 Reviews

Pennymoxie November 24, 2022
We will never have mashed potatoes again. This is simple, delicious, beautiful presentation and the aroma… ah! If you don’t own a mandolin, put it on your birthday / holiday wish list. I’ve had one for 18 years and it’s one tool I could not live without. You will use it more than you think.
Stephen P. August 30, 2020
Just made this. Instead of cooking in the oven, I smoked it on the Kamado Joe at around 375. To finish it, I used a searzall to brown the cheese. Other than the thin crispy potato layer on the bottom, these were amazing and smoky.
Josh C. August 31, 2020
I love the idea of smoking this - thanks for sharing!
Susan July 13, 2020
This is so good! Definitely a showstopper dish. I used fresh thyme and quadrupled the amount. Amazing!
patricia G. March 21, 2020
Qs for Food52: what if you started cooking the pan of potatoes on the top of the stove (to warm cream and par-cook the potatoes) before transferring the pan to the oven? What if you covered the pan of potatoes to par-cook them, keeping the pan on a very gentle stove-top heat before transferring it -- uncovered -- to the oven? Personally I use cream, rather than milk, for scalloped potatoes, because the latter can curdle. I micro-plane a little garlic straight into the cream -- it will infuse while cooking intermingled with the potatoes.Sometimes I microplane a little nutmeg instead of garlic.Fresh thyme is great with both. I use cheese only for the top layer, grated comte or gruyere mixed with a little Parmesan, and only a light sprinkling. If the potatoes are done and the top isn't as golden as I'd like it to be after cooking in the oven, I give the scalloped potatoes a quick pass under the broiler, as you did in your recipe. PS As grocery shopping becomes more limited in the coming weeks--months?-- due to limitations imposed by the coronavirus, how we will cook our favorite dishes? If I can't find cream, I guess I'll make a light béchamel with milk. If milk is in short supply, I guess I'll use a mixture of stock and milk. Might this be a good time to unearth WW2 cookbooks for ideas, updating them to our present circumstances?
Anne C. March 21, 2020
My mom use to include very thinly sliced onions between the potatoes. I loved them and never seem to find a recipe that includes them or even a frozen product in the grocery store. I wonder why. Potatoes and onions are a match made for each other.
caroline0ne March 23, 2020
The Barefoot Contessa has a fabulous recipe for a Potato Fennel au gratin that has a similar effect - just fennel instead of onions.
Penny H. March 21, 2020
Back around 1960 I saw something, probably in the newspaper about scalloped potatoes. No recipe, so I winged it and my recipe became my husbands favorite. The downside was that once he liked something I was never allowed to change any ingredient. So - here's my recipe. Peeled, sliced russet potatoes, whole milk to cover, lots of butter, salt. Bake in oven until liquids evaporate. Serve to hungry family. Enjoy.
Grace H. June 5, 2021
Penny H,
Now, THIS is the recipe for scalloped potatoes. No thyme, no cheese, no bay leaf (!) or garlic. Just butter, milk and salt! Why take a good old, perfectly wonderful recipe and mess with it until it becomes totally unrecognizable? At least rename it... maybe something like "Fussy Potato Casserole That Is Not Scalloped Potatoes".
chris March 5, 2020
Emmanthaler is even better than Gruyere. In fact, Emmenthaler is so good in this dish, I add it between each layer of the potatoes as well as on top. Also, I throw in a handful of minced shallot, a little between each layer. The shallot does not get screened out before eating. One serious problem with this recipe: don't make more than you can eat at a sitting. This dish does not reheat well as the sauce breaks and the potatoes wholly absorb the sauce constituents.
caroline0ne March 23, 2020
Now you tell me. I just divided it between two oval casseroles with the plan to reheat or even freeze the second one.