Method: Skinny Potato Gratin

I can hear you: Oh, no you don’t.

I don’t mean skinny in that way. Not too skinny, anyway. I mean skin-y, a potato gratin made with the skins on.

Everyone has their own favorite version of potato gratin. Some folks like to make a bechamel first, and of course the cheese of choice is a topic of hot debate. But the potatoes usually go in naked. (I can’t remember ever tasting a gratin made with unpeeled potatoes.)

What’s so bad about the skins?

Me, I’d always peeled Yukon Gold potatoes and sliced them good and thin, layering them with Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, butter, flour, and herbs, like Kathy taught me one day about four years ago on Martha’s Vineyard.

But here’s the thing: potato gratin is one of those things that’s infinitely more enjoyable to make without measuring. If you’re in there with teaspoons and tablespoons, shaking flour over the potatoes in a fine, even layer, you might get a higher percentage of perfectly seasoned bites, but you might also go crazy. You might be counting the number of butter cubes you place between each layer, instead of feeling the way the butter’s fat seeps into the pores on your fingertips. You might be so focused on measuring cheese that you forget how funny it is when potato starch dries on your forehead (how did it get there?) and makes you look like a kid that found mom’s make-up.

So play with it. If you use red potatoes, you might get something that goes into the oven looking like Spam casserole:

Spam Gratin

And whose general post-baking resemblance to Canadian bacon is so disappointing your significant other shoves it into a plastic container before you have a chance attempt resurrection:

Gratin Mess

But no matter what it looks like, its deep, satisfying flavor will make you cut it into little squares the next day, and eat it cold, brick by cheesy potato brick, because it really doesn’t need to be heated up:

Technicolor Potato Gratin

(Yes, I ate it with my hands.)

Method: Skinny Potato Gratin
Recipe 305 of 365

If you’d like to peel your potatoes, fine. Do it. I used to, but after trying once without peeling, I probably never will again. I sliced my various potatoes really, really thin, about 1/16″ on a mandolin slicer (don’t lose a finger!), and the skins cooked so we didn’t really notice their texture in the gratin, but I think their flavor added something.

So start with a bunch of potatoes – you can use any color and make a Technicolor Tater Gratin like I did, but keep in mind that blue potatoes might cause sort of a gray shade and all-red potatoes (the kind that are red inside, too) look dangerously like Spam.

So strike that – start with a bunch of firm, white-fleshed potatoes. You’ll need more for a bigger dish, less for a smaller dish. The idea here is to fill the dish just about to the top. I decided how many potatoes to use by filling the dish with one layer of whole potatoes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease your favorite casserole dish (favorite dishes make tastier dishes, I do believe) with butter, and gather salt, pepper, regular flour, and high-quality grated cheese on the counter. I use Parmesan cheese, typically, but I’ve also used gruyere, cheddar, and brie, or a mixture of all the little ends left in the fridge, and quite often I add in some chopped herbs. Oh, and you’ll need milk and cream, too. You can use all milk, but the dish won’t be quite as rich, or all cream, but the cream sometimes boils over and creates a bit of a mess, so I tend to go with half of each. But note: Half and Half, the product, never works well in these recipes. Something about the way it’s produced.

Slice the potatoes literally as thin as you can get them. Spread a layer (a small potato’s worth) in the bottom of the pan, and sprinkle it with flour, like you’re flouring a board with a thin layer for pie crust. Season with salt and pepper, dot with little bits of butter, and sprinkle with a thin layer of cheese. Scatter some herbs on top, if you’d like.

(If you think this sounds familiar, you’re right: This recipe is nothing groundbreaking. It’s the same, only you spend less time peeling.)

Repeat: Potatoes, then flour, salt, pepper, butter, cheese, and herbs, if you’re using them. Keep going until you’re almost to the top. End with a potato layer. You might want to take some care to make this one look pretty, because it’s what you’ll be looking at – arrange the potatoes like fallen dominoes, then add just cheese and butter to the last layer.

Add about a half cup of cream to the potatoes, then add whole milk until it comes about 2/3 to 3/4 up the inside of the pan – just so you can see it around the edges of the potatoes, but not so high it covers the top layer.

Cover with foil and bake on the top rack (on another baking sheet, to catch any drips) for about 30 minutes. Remove foil, and bake another 30 minutes or so, until the cheese is browned and bubbling.

Important: The gratin is sometimes a little loose at this point. Let it sit a good 10 to 15 minutes before serving; the potatoes are great at continuing to soak up the liquid.

Note: If you’re the type that follows recipes to the letter, I used 1 1/2 pounds potatoes, 2 tablespoons flour, 4 tablespoons butter, 1/4 pound grated Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup cream, and . . .well, I didn’t measure the milk. Ha! You’ll have to wing it. I didn’t use herbs this time, but I usually use a mix of thyme and rosemary.

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Filed under recipe, side dish, vegetables

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