The Best Potatoes Au Gratin Don’t Contain Any Cheese

The Best Potatoes Au Gratin Don’t Contain Any Cheese

Oh, hello. Do I have your attention? Are you ready to fire off an angry comment, condemning me and my worst take yet? I feel you friend, for I had a similar reaction when someone told me that potatoes au gratin didn’t need any cheese.

Photo: Claire Lower

Honestly, that fateful day was a real rollercoaster. When this woman, whom I had paid to instruct me in the ways of French cooking, first informed me we would be making potatoes au gratin, I was very pleased, but when she told me we wouldn’t be using any cheese, I was very sad.

She assured me it would be fine, better even, than any au gratin I had ever had before. I was like “big if true”, which was met with a blank stare, because my teacher was a refined French lady, not an internet-dwelling, millennial raccoon.

Anyway. Technically “gratin” just means “topped with a brown crust”, but that crust is usually cheese, breadcrumbs, or breadcrumbs and cheese. This recipe, however, omits cheese entirely, and consists of nothing more than potatoes, heavy cream and salt.

It seems too simple, but it is, in a word, “dope”. The starch from the potatoes mixes with cream to create the richest sauce imaginable, while the top transforms into a magical layer of deeply golden, bubbling dairy crust that is very reminiscent of, well, cheese.

It also couldn’t be easier, or cheaper, to assemble. Thinly slice some potatoes – Russets or Coliban are fine – and layer them in a casserole dish, overlapping the edges slightly. Sprinkle them with salt, then pour some cream on top until they are just submerged.

Repeat this process, alternating potatoes, salt and cream, until you’ve filled your dish. You can of course add some cheese in there if you want – I’m not your boss – but I urge you to enjoy this oh so simple iteration before messing with it.

Bake it in a 190C oven until the browned and the cream is bubbling in an aggressive fashion. Let it cool for five minutes or so – just so the sauce doesn’t spill everywhere – and scoop onto some very lucky plates for some very lucky people.

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