The word gratin in the world of food usually means: baked with cheese topping. Even in my book La Varenne Pratique this is the case and according to them the most famous example is gratin dauphinois. Lovely Parisian foodie extraordinaire Clotilde Dusoulier from the fantastic site Chocolate & Zucchini insists that there is no cheese involved: "...it is my duty to draw your attention to the fact that a proper gratin dauphinois does not involve cheese. No."
Really? Interesting! A gratin without cheese? Then I went to the highest authority on French cuisine, Julia Child. According to Nancy Yos at eHow, this is Julia Child's version of Gratin Dauphinois:
It involves mixing 2 pounds of peeled, sliced potatoes with 1 cup of milk that has been briefly boiled with 1 clove of mashed garlic and some salt and pepper. Spoon all this into a casserole, dot with 3 to 4 tablespoons of butter, and bake in a 425-degree F oven for about 25 minutes.Clotilde Dusoulier's version of Gratin Dauphinois is very similar to Julia's so I decided to try her version of this recipe. Let the cooking with cream begin!
Now, as usual, I had to change the recipe a little. I did not have whole milk so I combined some whipping cream with skim milk and cooked the thinly sliced potatoes in this liquid instead with some salt and freshly ground nutmeg. I brought the liquid up in temperature slowly, then let it gently bubble for eight minutes stirring regularly. I only had one pound of potatoes on hand but this recipe can easily be divided in half.
I did not have an earthenware vessel so I used a small pie plate instead. I sliced a garlic clove in half and smeared its fantastic flavour all over the pie plate.
After eight minutes I transfered the potatoes to the pie plate and added some thyme and dill, I did not have any chives on hand. If you want the sauce to be perfectly white avoid using black pepper but I love black pepper so I ground some fresh pepper all over the top and added some more milk/cream.
I baked the gratin dauphinois at 430F for 25 minutes and then let it sit for five minutes to set. This was an unbelievably decadent side dish! The flavour was fantastic, I love how the herbs really connected with the potatoes. Next time I will probably keep the skins on the potatoes so there is some nutritional value to this dish because I am very certain I will make it again.
Although rich, this dish also had a rustic feel to it that I enjoyed. True clean flavours that feel timeless. This was not a difficult dish to make and the payoff was extraordinary.