In my house, it’s not officially fall until we make potato gratin, a comforting dish of thinly sliced potatoes, cream, garlic and cheese, baked until bubbling and golden brown to perfection. It’s my favorite way to eat potatoes in the fall and winter, because nothing beats those flavor combinations and it’s the absolute perfect side to serve with roasted poultry, meatloaf, lamb and beef.
Before I get into the details of the recipe, it’s important to know that the word gratin refers to the French technique of topping a dish (it doesn’t always have to be potatoes) with either cheese or breadcrumbs that’s then baked or broiled until golden brown on top.
There are some variations of this dish such as scalloped potatoes and the French version called potatoes dauphinoise, but what’s the difference between them? Not much. They are comprised of potatoes and cream, but scalloped potatoes and potatoes dauphinoise typically don’t have any cheese while potato gratin (aka potatoes au gratin) has grated cheese in between the layers.
When it comes down to it, the classic definitions of these dishes are very loose these days. Don’t get hung up on being traditional here. Add cheese or don’t, call it what you want and people will seriously love it!
When I make my 5-ingredient potato gratin, I’m a purist and only use russet potatoes, heavy cream, garlic, fresh thyme and grated cheese. This small list of ingredients checks off most of my guilty pleasures which is why it’s so heavenly, but also why I don’t make it every weekend.
The ingredients are very straight forward, but you can change them up to your liking. I really like using russet potatoes because their starch helps thicken up the cream and turns it into a velvety sauce that coats the potatoes, but I have also made this recipe using just sweet potatoes (amazing for Thanksgiving) and have also used a combination of potatoes and turnips, or potatoes and celery root.
I like the flavor combination of potatoes, garlic and fresh thyme, but you can use any herb of your choice such as rosemary, oregano or sage.
My favorite cheese to use in this recipe is Gruyere because it melts beautifully and doesn’t become grainy, but Gruyere is really expensive. To make the recipe more cost effective, I use a little bit of real Gruyere cheese but then cut it with Swiss cheese. I also like to sprinkle in a bit of parmesan in between the layers for the sharpness and nuttiness. Instead of Gruyere or Swiss, you can use cheddar, gouda, Monterey jack or pepper jack. I do prefer to grate my own cheese for this recipe because pre-grated cheese is tossed with anti-caking agents.
For me, the use of heavy cream is not negotiable. Remember… this is a special occasion dish and some things are best enjoyed in moderation. The high fat content of the heavy cream will protect it from curdling while baking, and give it that this-is-the-best-side-dish-I-have-ever-had status which is what we’re going for here, right?
The prep and assembly of this dish are pretty straight forward. The first thing you want to do is infuse the heavy cream with the minced garlic and fresh herbs. Place the cream, garlic and herbs in a small saucepan, and set over low heat. Gently cook until you see little bubbles around the edges. Remove it from the heat, and allow to steep.
While the cream is infusing, grate your cheese of choice and place it in a bowl or in a mound on your countertop. Peel your potatoes, if you wish, and thinly slice them. I used a mandoline because it’s quick and easy, but you can also use your knife.
To assemble the gratin, start by buttering your baking dish, and then lay the potatoes in the prepared dish so they are just overlapping slightly; be sure to completely cover the bottom of the dish.
Sprinkle the potatoes with salt and pepper to taste, top with enough of the infused heavy cream to just lightly cover the potatoes and top with a sprinkling of grated cheese.
Continue repeating these steps until you have used up all of your ingredients. Be sure to save enough cheese to top the gratin.
Please be sure you place the baking dish on a foil or parchment-lined sheet tray, because it’s inevitable there’s going to be some bubbling over and this will save you from cleaning up a mess in your oven.
And, cover the dish with a sheet of foil that’s been buttered or sprayed on the side touching the cheese; this will prevent the cheese from sticking to the foil.
Here’s the thing about baking the gratin… it takes a long time, so plan accordingly. Bake the gratin, covered with the foil, for about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Then uncover the gratin and continue baking for an additional 30 minutes, or until the cheese on top is golden brown.
The gratin really needs to rest for about 30 minutes before cutting, so work that into your timing, too. All in all, this needs about 2 1/2 hours for baking and resting. You can alternatively make individual-size gratins in ramekins, which will cut down on the baking time.
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Yield: 6 servings
Active time: 40 minutes
Start to finish: 2 hours, 30 minutes
2 cups heavy cream
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
5 medium-size russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
3 cups Gruyere cheese, grated
1 cup parmesan cheese, finely grated
- Preheat the oven to 350º.
- In a small saucepan, heat together the cream, garlic and thyme until steaming. Set aside.
- Lightly butter a baking or pie dish. Place a layer of the sliced potatoes on the bottom of the dish in a concentric circle. Season with salt and pepper to taste, ladle on 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the infused garlic cream, and top with a sprinkling of the Gruyere and parmesan cheeses.
- Continue with more layers in this fashion until the baking dish is full.
- Top the gratin with a sprinkling of Gruyere cheese and cover with foil. Bake on a foil or parchment-lined sheet tray for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Tip: Butter or spray the side of foil that’s covering the gratin to prevent the cheese from sticking.
- Uncover the baking dish and continue to cook until the potatoes are knife-tender and the cheese is golden brown and bubbly, an additional 25 to 30 minutes.
- Allow to cool for 20 to 30 minutes, cut into slices and serve.
You should definitely give this dish a try at home because it will not only make your whole house smell amazing, but your friends and family will go crazy for it. But if you join us for our Fall Dinner Party Demo class on November 13th, our chef will make it for your enjoyment. Or, you can attend our New Year’s Eve French Steakhouse class, and make it yourself for a delicious celebratory meal!