A Classic Potato Gratin With No Recipe

 

Have you ever had a friend who knows no strangers? The kind of genuine person to whom everyone in the room gravitates — someone who doesn’t have to work at meeting new people, because somehow it is coded into their DNA for others to like them?

For me a potato gratin is just such a friend. A friend who hangs out with all the cool entrees too: a mustard crusted beef tenderloin  taking a bath in a flavorful sauce or a perfectly roasted chicken with crackly brown skin are its best friends.

But, to its credit, a potato gratin knows enough to complement all the other dishes and, with the exception of a few rules, remains unfussy enough not to need a recipe and somehow is always perfectly put together for any holiday gathering.

How to Make Potato Gratin Without a Recipe

1. Peel your potatoes. For a 10-inch oval gratin pan, I like to use six to eight medium-sized Yukon Gold potatoes — about 2 1/2 pounds. (Don’t worry: If you overdo it, you can snack on leftovers after step 6.)

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2. Slice the potatoes an 1/8-inch thick, ideally on a mandoline right into a heavy bottomed pot. Add a few minced cloves of garlic, about a teaspoon of salt, and roughly equal parts of water and milk to cover the potatoes.

Potato Gratin

3. Bring it to a gentle boil over medium heat and cook the potatoes till just tender but not falling apart, then drain. By cooking the potatoes most of the way through in flavorful liquid, you don’t have to worry about exact quantities of liquid and seasoning later on.

Potato Gratin

4. While the potatoes are cooling, grate approximately 2 1/2 cups of Gruyère or Comté cheese — they are traditional but expensive. Other cheese in the family would be gouda, fontina, or American Gruyère.

Potato Gratin

5. Get out an oval gratin, or any casserole, pie pan or dish you choose. Just take note: with a smaller circumference dish you have more creamy interior and less crunchy top and, obviously, the reverse is true for a larger gratin. Place around half the potatoes into the gratin (they don’t need to look pretty, yet). Season with salt and white pepper. Top with half the cheese and drizzle about 1/2 cup of cream over the top.

Potato Gratin

6. Starting with one slice of potato placed in the middle of the gratin, spiral the potatoes around until you reach the gratin edges. Make it look pretty — it makes a difference.

Potato Gratin

7. Top with the remaining cheese, then drizzle another 1/2 cup or so of cream over the top and around the edges so it gets to the bottom, too.

Potato Gratin

8. Bake at 425˚ F until brown and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Don’t overcook the gratin so it dries out. You want a little cream to remain on the bottom. Serve.

Potato Gratin

Dear Mr. Pepin,

I made a recipe of yours last night. It wasn’t the first time I have made this recipe, in fact, I have made it several times but it has been far to long since it has graced our table, rest assured, this will not happen again. Just in case I haven’t been clear it was beyond delicious as always.

I remember the night I watched you make the gratin on TV. It must have been about three in the morning or somewhere around there. I was still working in the restaurant business and it had been a long night on the line. Now I was home, my wife fast asleep in bed, and I out in the living room and on the couch with a beer in my hand winding down. I was flipping through a food magazine and doing the same with the channels on TV.

Jacques Pepin's Shrimp Gratin
Jacques Pepin’s Shrimp Gratin

At the time I had not seen but a couple shows in any of your many series because our local PBS station didn’t carry them or they were on at times when I wasn’t around. But here you were in the wee hours of the morning in front of the camera, your heavy French accent, broad smile, all as unmistakeable as the sparkle in your eyes. You caught my attention right away.

I watched as you peeled shrimp and even went so far as to show me how to pinch the tails between my thumb and forefinger, then wiggle, and finally you gently pulled and I watched as all the tail meat slipped out of its casing without any waste. Then you sliced a handful of the freshest white mushrooms with such speed and accuracy it could have been a magic trick. You wasted no time doing the same with a couple of green onions. Continue reading

Dear Mr. Pépin

Shrimp Gratin

Dear Mr. Pépin,

I made a recipe of yours last night. It wasn’t the first time I have made this recipe, in fact, I have made it several times but it has been far to long since it has graced our table, rest assured, this will not happen again. Just in case I haven’t been clear it was beyond delicious as always.

I remember the night I watched you make the gratin on TV. It must have been about three in the morning or somewhere around there. I was still working in the restaurant business and it had been a long night on the line. Now I was home, my wife fast asleep in bed, and I out in the living room and on the couch with a beer in my hand winding down. I was flipping through a food magazine and doing the same with the channels on TV.

At the time I had not seen but a couple shows in any of your many series because our local PBS station didn’t carry them or they were on at times when I wasn’t around. But here you were in the wee hours of the morning in front of the camera, your heavy French accent, broad smile, all as unmistakeable as the sparkle in your eyes. You caught my attention right away.

I watched as you peeled shrimp and even went so far as to show me how to pinch the tails between my thumb and forefinger, then wiggle, and finally you gently pulled and I watched as all the tail meat slipped out of its casing without any waste. Then you sliced a handful of the freshest white mushrooms with such speed and accuracy it could have been a magic trick. You wasted no time doing the same with a couple of green onions.

All the while you were discussing and telling the audience why you were doing things the way you did them. Like the time I watched you make cauliflower soup and you used the entire cauliflower not just the white florets. You told us how the leaves were full of flavor and nutrients and how in France it would have been a crime to throw them out.

What I watched that night was not the norm. I had seen enough food TV to know. There were no bams, no yelling at young chefs until they cried or some person telling me I can’t cook at home because I am not as skilled as they, no, I didn’t even see someone saying organic, local or sustainable because you didn’t need to say the words to teach them.

No, it was someone doing the hard job of quietly, but realistically, teaching people how to cook and be successful in their own home kitchens. What I saw before my very eyes was a man passionate about food, the table and living. Someone helping people to use and understand simple, easily obtainable fresh ingredients that would deliver great taste at dinner time. It was someone extremely talented in the kitchen, who understands how food works and who has spent years building on techniques he was taught as a child. A person who understands if people are successful in the kitchen they will continue to cook, maybe even start to like, enjoy and use these skills the rest of their life.

You are and will continue to be a wonderful role model and I want to say thank you.

Sincerely,

Tom

Makes 4 servings

1 pound of raw shrimp, 26-30 size is great, peeled and deveined

2 cloves of garlic, minced finely. You want it to cook so really mince it.

2 green onions, chopped

1 cup white or cremini mushrooms, wiped of dirt, and julienned

3/4 scant cup bread crumbs

1/2 cup parmesan, grated

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

kosher salt and fresh ground white pepper

1/4 cup dry white wine

1. Heat you oven to 400˚F.

2. Place bread crumbs and the parmesan into a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of melted butter and season the mix with salt and pepper. Mix everything really well to distribute the butter this will help a great deal in getting the top to brown evenly.

3. Put the shrimp into another mixing bowl and add green onions, mushrooms and garlic. Toss to combine, season with salt and pepper then combine this mixture with half the breadcrumbs. Sprinkle with the white wine and toss again.

4. Fan the shrimp out in individual gratins or one large gratin or casserole. Top with the remaining breadcrumbs.

5. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the top is brown and the shrimp are cooked through. If you have over lapped the shrimp a great deal it might take longer to cook and you may need to back the oven down to 375˚F so the topping doesn’t brown to quickly. Serve.