TGIFOOD

CREAMY SPUDS

Throwback Thursday: Potatoes Dauphinoise or potato bake?

Throwback Thursday: Potatoes Dauphinoise or potato bake?
Tony Jackman’s potatoes dauphinoise, or potato bake if you prefer. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

Whether it’s called gratin dauphinoise, pommes de terre dauphinoise, potatoes à la dauphinoise or gratin de pommes à la dauphinoise, or merely a potato bake, it’s a staple that can never die and remains popular around the world.

Every second episode of the original British cook-at-home show Come Dine With Me has somebody cooking Potatoes Dauphinoise, though at least one contestant called it Potatoes Daw-fin-noise. It’s a rare example of a dish that is cooked both in restaurants by seasoned chefs and by ordinary people at home.

There are two kinds of Potatoes Dauphinoise, in a sense. 

One is the classic French dish of layered potato scallops cooked in cream. The other is the common-or-garden dish of layered potato scallops cooked in cream. The first is refined by chefs and presented in a neat square on your fancy restaurant plate. The other is dolloped on your plate at home. But when it comes down to it, they’re both much the same thing: a potato bake.

Pommes de terre dauphinoise, call it what you will, is not to be confused with gratin potatoes (note the exclusion of “dauphinoise”), which is a dish of potatoes cooked in cream in which the potatoes have first been boiled. Dauphinoise potatoes are cooked in cream in their raw state.

It is also not to be confused with pommes dauphine, which refers to little round, crisp potato puffs.

Wikipedia tells us that the first mention of the dish is from 12 July 1788, when it was served with ortolans at a dinner given by Charles-Henri, Duke of Clermont-Tonnerre and Lieutenant-General of the Dauphiné, for the municipal officials of the town of Gap, now in the department of Hautes-Alpes. The tradition was for the small birds to be roasted with their feathers on. 

Says Wikipedia: “The bird is roasted for eight minutes and then plucked. The consumer then places the bird feet-first into their mouth while holding onto the bird’s head. The ortolan is then eaten whole, with or without the head, and the consumer spits out the larger bones.”

Well, that will not be one for everybody’s taste. 

But back to our creamy potato bake. Garlic plays a role, modestly (some recipes call only for the dish to be rubbed with garlic). Some versions have cheese though this is not traditional. There must be butter (knobs of butter can be placed between the layers, or at the very least the dish should be buttered). Some versions, including by Escoffier, include eggs. Some recipes include milk as well as cream; I used only cream.

But in truth, the dish can be seen as something of a blank canvas as long as you have the core ingredients of potatoes and cream. There is no reason not to use a herb of your preference, whether thyme or rosemary, though I would go shyly with the latter as it risks overpowering the dish. I have included slices of onion on occasion. Some cooks may add a few grindings of nutmeg.

In your posh restaurant incarnation, potatoes dauphinoise is likely to be shaved very thinly (a mandoline is often used), stacked tightly together and, once having been baked in cream, cut into neat rectangles and placed with aplomb alongside your meat. Traditionally, the depth of your scallops (thin slices of potato) should be that of a coin’s edge.

In my version, which I’m happy for you to call a potato bake if you think it is not refined enough to warrant the title of potatoes dauphinoise, melted butter was mixed with the cream before being poured over the potatoes. 

I used a modest amount of thyme leaves, scattered here and there between the layers, and I sprinkled each layer with a little salt and black pepper. I used finely chopped garlic as well. No onion on this occasion, though I promise you it does work in the dish. I did not use nutmeg. I don’t recall ever having topped the dish with grated cheese, but it does happen. I have never used eggs in it.

I say it serves two to four but it is so moreish that you could happily turn it out for just two so that you can pop back to the kitchen for seconds.

The quantities below work for the size of an old-fashioned enamel dish such as that in the photo: adjust quantities if using a larger dish.

(Serves 2 to 4)

Ingredients

5 large potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

500 ml fresh cream

4 heaped Tbsp butter, melted

Salt and black pepper to taste

Thyme leaves

Method

Preheat the oven to 190℃. Grease a suitable oven dish with butter.

Peel the potatoes and slice them about the width of a coin, carefully and evenly.

Chop the garlic and have it to hand, along with thyme leaves, picked from their stems. Have salt and black pepper to hand too.

Arrange a layer of potato scallops at the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle over a little garlic, some thyme leaves and salt and black pepper. Repeat with similar layers until the dish is full.

In a small pot, melt the butter and stir in the cream. Pour it evenly over the potatoes.

Bake in the preheated oven until the potatoes are tender and have soaked up a fair deal of the cream, though the result should still be creamy. This can take an hour or more. Serve as a side dish. DM

Follow Tony Jackman on Instagram @tony_jackman_cooks.

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