21 October 2009

slinging hash: potato gratin

Although there are thousands of ways to cook them, I am not very imaginative when it comes to potatoes. If I'm serving chicken, I make mashed potatoes; with beef, it's roasted or baked potatoes.

When I'm feeling frisky I switch it up by serving mashed potatoes with beef, and vice versa. Last Friday night, I made lamb, and by my logic, it called for an entirely different potato preparation. (If you're wondering, how about rice?, I have one word for you: Sacha. Rice doesn't always vacuum well, and it takes a long time to pick those grains up from the rug.)

And so I remembered potato gratin, and as I always do when I make one, I wondered, why don't I make this more often? Potato gratin is easy and delicious, and coming in somewhere between roasted and mashed, is the perfect fence straddler.

And for a slatternly cook like myself, a gratin has the advantage of coming together more by method than recipe. It is flexible and forgiving. If you have a lot of time — ha! — you can cook it longer on a lower heat. If you're in a hurry, you can raise the temperature, cook it at a higher temperature for a shorter period of time. You can make it with milk, half and half, or cream. Add garlic, or not, though I highly recommend it as there are few things that smell more heavenly than garlic warmed in milk. It is fashionable in the food pages to say that with a salad, potato gratin would make a great light supper, but in reality, I wouldn't bother with the salad. I'd be happy eating it all by itself.

Potato Gratin
serves 4-5
You can easily increase this; my general rule is one fewer potato than the number of people you are serving. 

4-5 medium potatoes
2-3 cloves of garlic
whole milk, half and half or cream
salt and pepper
butter, for greasing dish

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.

Scrub the potatoes, and peel them or not, according to your mood and their level of filth. Slice potatoes about 1/8 inch thick.

Slice the garlic into thin slivers.

Butter an 8" square or gratin dish. Place a layer of potatoes on the bottom of the dish, scatter a few slivers of garlic, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Repeat with remaining potatoes and garlic. Slowly pour in milk, half and half or cream to reach the top layer of potatoes, leaving them exposed. Gently press the potatoes down to submerge them a bit; you don't want the potatoes to be completely covered, as they will bake down as they cook.

Bake 40-60 minutes, checking after 40 minutes. Gratin is done when the top layer is nicely browned, and potatoes can be easily pierced with a knife.

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