Food You Can Eat: It’s Potatoes au Gratin Week!

Note: Golden, not box-potato orange.

Just in time for the holidays, Cousin Matthew and I will offer you two versions of Potatoes au Gratin, today and Thursday. As Cousin M says, everyone makes them differently. Making them from scratch, as opposed to opening a box and re-hydrating cardboard potatoes mixed with powdered cheese is well worth the effort. My recipe combines a version from Martha Stewart and a version from my Grandmother’s favorite cookbook, Meta Given’s 1949 classic The Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking.

Preheat your oven to 300-325 F and butter a 2 quart baking dish, set aside. Thinly slice (1/8 inch or so) two-three pounds of potatoes (whatever you have on hand works, err to the side of larger), set aside.

Now, start the sauce. Heat 1 and 1/2 to 2 cups of heavy cream (depending on how many potatoes you use), 1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp black pepper, 2 pinches of saffron, and 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg. Bring to a simmer, so that the sauce is boiling at the edge of the sauce pan but not at a full boil. Remove from the heat and set aside – you want it to cool and thicken a bit.

While your sauce cools, slice 1 very large onion (I like Vidalia) and uncoil into rings. Add 1-2 Tbls butter to a frying pan and heat to a light sizzle, then add the onion and 1 Tbls minced garlic. Salt and cook until translucent, maybe 10 minutes, stirring as needed. Lower the heat and continue to cook until the onion is caramelized, a golden brown color throughout, about 15 minutes. Watch them – you do not want to burn them.

Layer half the sliced potatoes in the buttered dish, overlapping them into a scale or shingle pattern. Layer on the onions and 1/2 cup grated Gruyère cheese. There is really no substitute for this type of cheese – you may need to go to a fancy grocery to get some. Layer the rest of the potatoes and pour the cooled sauce over all; finish with another 1/2 cup grated Gruyère cheese.

Bake for 1 hour and 30 minutes; pull out of the oven and let stand for 15 or 20 minutes to allow the sauce to further set. These can be made ahead, covered with foil, and popped in to reheat with other dishes.

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      • If you can have pepper: last night, because I was in an “I’M SO FUCKING OVER THIS” mood, I sliced up two big beefsteak tomatoes, sprinkled them generously with ground pepper, and that was our “side salad.” For the “main course” I opened up one of the many cans of canned crab (cf. the Crab Tagliatelle recipe) and made a mix with very eggy mayonnaise, a little sharp mustard, squeezed over the juice of a lemon, and threw in some capers just because. I plopped this down on the table and opened up a box of Wheat Thins (! Yes, they still exist).
        The Forager-in-Chief asked, “This is dinner? Or is this the appetizer?” 
        “If you’re not satisfied, just two short blocks up the avenue there is a McDonald’s to your left and a Popeye’s to your right. If you go to the Popeye’s, get me…”
        “Mattie, I’m sorry, this is going to be great.” He scooped some crab onto a Wheat Thin.
        “I’ve been doing a little research about Thanksgiving.”
        “You mean, Plymouth Rock, the Pilgrims…”
        “No, about what we’re going to eat. You know, it’s a myth that all Jews are obligated to go to a movie theater and eat Chinese on Christmas Day.”
        “I didn’t know–”
        “I thought we’d do that for Thanksgiving. There’s that Chinese restaurant that I really like that we haven’t gone to since These Unprecedented Times began, so I called them today and they’ll be open on Thanksgiving. I’ll call in the order and you can pick it up. Then we can watch a holiday movie, like ‘Psycho’.”
        “And I’ll pay for the Chinese buffet, I suppose.”
        “Must I do everything? More wine? I’ll open another bottle.”

        • Week before last I ordered take out from a nearby Indian restaurant. I ordered 3 entrees and 3 appetizers and I REGRET NOTHING

          So, you and forager-in-chief need to order at least 9 total appetizers and entrees to have a correct spread of options for the holiday meal and necessary leftovers. 

        • “so I called them today and they’ll be open on Thanksgiving”
          This was how MY tradition of “Chinese on Thanksgiving Day” got started!😉😁🤗🤤
          It was the second year I lived in Minneapolis, and my workplace’s busy season (dance wear & skate wear) was from late October through January/ February.
          The first year i worked there, i was a stitcher, so i was able to go home for the weekend. Second year, I was the only Cutter, so I was gonna have Thursday off, but had to be back at work at 7:30 Friday morning🙄😒😱
          My family lives about 1.5-2 hours NW of “The Cities” (Minneapolis & St Paul), and having arrived up home after THREE hours of driving the previous year–because of all thd damn traffic from Minneapolis to about 45 miles into the exurbs–i decided that it wasn’t gonna be worth it, to spend 6 -8 or so hours at home, having to drive for 5…
          So Mom, Dad, and I decided we’d do *our* Thanksgiving on Saturday.
          Annnd, being a 24-year-old DUMBASS, I completely forgot that there would be NO pizza places, fast food, or grocery stores open Thursday, and didn’t get anything to eat on Wednesday night😖
          I slept in, gloriously, on that Thursday, woke up, and called one of my favorite places, to order takeout…
          As were the NEXT five places I called!😬
          And THEN, I called the Chinese Restaurant that the phone book told me was closest, and Miracle of Miracles, THEY WERE OPEN!😁🤗😋
          Last year was  the FIRST time, in… 19 years? That i actually ate turkey ON Thanksgiving Day😉
          I honestly LOVE having Chinese on Thanksgiving day, and just kicking back & RELAXING, for that day & Friday (maaaaaybe going out & hitting some stores early Friday afternoon, after the craziness has died out🤔)and then cooking the big “fancy” meal on Saturday.
          Because that gives me Thursday & Friday to just slowly do my prep work, chopping, and assembly, so that i don’t need to get up at a completely RIDICULOUS hour of the day, and stress & sweat all day in the kitchen.😉
          Whenever *I* host, I tell my parents & guests that we eat on SATURDAY, and they’re welcome to join in on the Chinese if they want, but I’m NOT making a damn turkey in the middle of the week, when I had to work the preceding days!

          • All the restaurants in Manhattan seem to be open on Thanksgiving. I think it’s because most apartments, even very expensive ones, typically have tiny kitchens, although that started changing with new construction around the turn of the 21st century. So if you want to spend Thanksgiving as a group and eat you essentially have to rent a part of a public space and pay someone to bring food to you. Plus it’s kind of well-known that lots of New Yorkers don’t know how to cook (tiny kitchens) which is why, even before the pandemic, there are lines out the door to get into places like TJs and Whole Foods with all their prepared meals and salads and frozen snacks. Everyone eats out all the time or orders in.

  1. Yum! I love potatoes au gratin but I have never successfully made this. I always want the potatoes under the top layer to be cooked more and I have thought about giving each layer a little bit of a bake before adding the next. I can’t trust myself to hand slice the potatoes consistently and I need to use the old mandoline. Maybe that’s the key! 

  2. Great, now I’m hungry.
    Does anyone know if potatoes au gratin freezes well? I usually make potatoes au gratin for Thanksgiving to share with my dad and grandparents, but my dad was recently told by his doctor to restrict his carb intake so I was going to skip making it this year. But now I’m thinking I could just make a smaller batch for myself and freeze any leftovers.

  3. Guh, I’m skipping the onion, but otherwise I’m all in on this. 

    I grew up on the boxed spuds (one of the few vegetable-like objects I would eat in my youth), so this will be pretty spectacular.

  4. This recipe is perfect, not least because it’s concise and gets to the point. What you’ll be reading from me, not so much. I do advocate the mandolin though, and give a tip on how to use it most efficiently.

  5. Not nearly as witty and fun as your recipes, Cousin M. Pro tip: Cousin Matthew’s Au Gratin Potatoes will post on Thursday. And stay tuned for his Deviled Egg extravaganza coming up tomorrow, just in time for your Thanksgiving dinner planning! 

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