Because I do not often crave potatoes slow-baked in a cream bath with a burnish of cheese and fine crunch top, when I do, I know exactly how I want it to taste and how much work I’m willing to do to make it happen. Since it’s been eleven years (!) since I last shared a potato gratin here, I think it’s worth revisiting as we head into gratin season, which is not a thing, I absolutely just made that up, but really should be for colder weather and shorter days.
I prefer my potatoes unpeeled; I like the definition on the edges as they bake up. I prefer stacks of potatoes leaning this way and that versus the traditional flat layers, because it creates more texture and a looser density. I love big chunks of leeks in a potato gratin, not sautéed and hidden, but wedged in all over, sharing the spotlight. I prefer cheese only on top and while I like crumbs, too, they have to be tossed in butter first so they remind me of buttered toast and not, say, sawdust. And while I in the past have made gratins with milk and/or half-and-half, I feel especially at this moment in time that if we’re going to do anything, we might as well do it spectacularly, and that will require heavy cream. Not so much that the potatoes are drowning, but enough that they bake up to the luxurious texture that makes a gratin worth daydreaming about.
This is a low-fuss, almost rustic gratin save one tiny extra step: if you can bear adding three minutes, I like to heat the cream with the garlic, salt, pepper, and thyme until simmering for a total infusion. It leads to a more evenly seasoned gratin. Should you need to halve this, you could do so in an 8- to 9-inch cake pan or equivalent oven-safe pan. But even if you, like most of us, are looking out over highly modified and much smaller holidays this year, I have a hunch that it’s been too long since you had potatoes this good. You know what to do next.
Events: I’ve added two virtual events this month that should be really fun. And more to come!
Elsewhere: I was on Splendid Table last week, chatting with Francis Lam about ways we can modify our holidays this year while still having great food celebrations. You can listen here.
6 months ago: Any-Kind-Of-Fruit Galette
1 year ago: Perfect Apple Tarte Tatin
2 year ago: Roberta’s Roasted Garlic Caesar Salad
3 years ago: Endive Salad with Toasted Breadcrumbs
4 years ago: Roasted Cauliflower with Pumpkin Seeds and Brown Butter and Apple Strudel
5 years ago: Oven Fries and Chocolate Peanut and Pretzel Brittle
6 years ago: Squash Toasts with Ricotta and Cider Vinegar
7 years ago: Spinach and Egg Pizzettes
8 years ago: Apple Cider Caramels
9 years ago: Homesick Texan Carnitas
10 years ago: Spicy Squash Salad with Lentils and Goat Cheese and Buckeyes
11 years ago: Baked Chicken Meatballs and Salted Brown Butter Crispy Treats
12 years ago: Cabbage and Mushroom Galette and Peanut Butter Crispy Bars
13 years ago: Cranberry Caramel and Almond Tart and Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic
14 years ago: Not Your Mama’s Coleslaw
Potato and Leek Gratin
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for pan
- 2 1/2 pounds yukon gold potatoes, unpeeled, scrubbed, thinly sliced
- 1 thick or 2 slimmer leeks, halved, washed, cut into 1-inch segments
- 2 cups heavy cream
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- Leaves from 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs (panko or homemade are great here)
- 3/4 cup coarsely grated gruyère, comte, or baby swiss cheese
Arrange small stacks of sliced potatoes on an angle, slightly fanned, in different directions filling the pan loosely. Tuck leeks, halved side up, between potatoes around the pan. In a medium saucepan, bring cream, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, many grinds of black pepper, garlic, and thyme to a simmer, stirring to ensure the salt dissolves. Pour hot cream mixture evenly over the pan, trying to get every potato and leek coated. Cover pan tightly with foil, place on a baking sheet to catch any drips, and bake for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt 2 remaining tablespoons butter. Add breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper to taste and mix to evenly coat.
At 30 minutes, briefly remove pan from oven and remove foil. Sprinkle top evenly with cheese, then scatter with buttered breadcrumbs. Return to the oven without foil for 45 minutes, until potatoes are totally tender, the top is browned, and the edges are bubbly. [Insert a knife or skewer into potatoes to feel for crunch or resistance. Return to the oven if needed.]
Let cool for 10 minutes before serving hot.
Do ahead: Gratin can be assembled the day before and baked before a big meal. It can also be baked for 30 minutes (the foil-on portion) and cooled, finishing the baking time the next day. Gratin reheats well in a 350-degree oven. Leftovers keep in the fridge for 4 to 5 days.