My Potato Gratin Quest

I’ve been on a hunt for a stellar gratin recipe for a while now. Ever since R had the most deliciously creamy and flavorful – and did I mentioned gorgeous? – potato gratin at West Town Tavern, I’ve been trying to recreate it.

(A quick side note for Chicagoans – West Town Tavern is one of the best kept secrets in the city, but its popularity is growing. Fabulously tasty and elegant food for such reasonable prices you’ll want to cry out for joy! You absolutely must try it!)

My first attempt at potato gratin had all the makings of a promising recipe. I had found it in Bon Appetit, the ingredients were simple and I had just gotten a new mandoline to test out. The recipe was for a Sicilian Style Potato Gratin and it didn’t call for much cheese, but instead it called for a good amount of chicken stock along with garlic, onions and capers. You’d think this would have been delicious, right? Wrong. The dish was liquidy, tasteless and just pretty bad. I was very disappointed. (The only reason I linked to it above is that maybe I just had bad luck and it will work out better for you all.)

After such a discouraging first try, I was hesitant, but determined, to try again. This time, I turned to the wondrous Alice Waters and her cookbook, The Art of Simple Food. Her recipe was just as you would expect – uncomplicated. Her original recipe does not add any cheese, but she does suggest variations such as rubbing the pan with garlic or sprinkling cheese between the layers. I, of course, chose to add cheese.

The prep time was very quick with my trusty mandoline and in less than 15 minutes I was sliding my gratin into the oven. The hardest part about making this was waiting the full hour that it takes to cook before I could eat it! The gruyere that I shredded on top turned a beautiful golden color that was just lovely. When the timer finally beeped, it was time for the moment of truth……

SUCCESS! Sort of. The gratin was delicious, make no mistake. It could have done with a tad more cheese and maybe a bit more salt and pepper, but overall it was creamy and delicious. It still wasn’t exactly what I’ve been trying to replicate, but it certainly was an improvement on last time! This recipe would be excellent for entertaining because it feeds a bunch, it’s quite lovely and the prep time is very quick.

Join me next time for: [cue booming movie voice] The Great Gratin Hunt.

If anyone happens to have a fantastic potato gratin recipe, please share in the comments below!

Alice Waters’ Potato Gratin


3 large Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced about 1/16 of an inch thick
4 Tbs. butter, separated
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 C. gruyere or parmesan cheese, shredded
1 C. milk


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Slice potatoes very thinly using a knife or mandoline. Grease an 8×8 inch pan. Lay potato slices in a straight line, overlapping slightly until the entire bottom of the pan is covered. They should look like shingles on a roof. Salt and pepper the potatoes and sprinkle 1/3 of the cheese on top. Repeat this process until you have 3 layers of potatoes with cheese in the middle. Reserve 1/3 of the cheese for the top. Salt and pepper the top layer, but do not add cheese.

Press down firmly to make sure all layers are compact. Pour 1 C. milk gently over the potatoes – it should come up just to the edge of the top layer. Bake in oven for 1 hour. Half way through cook time, take pan out of the oven. Using a metal spatula, press down on the top of the gratin to make sure all layers are compact. Return to the oven for the rest of the hour. Sprinkle cheese on top after 45 minutes and return to the oven. Watch carefully to make sure it doesn’t burn.

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  • Becke (Columbus Foodie)

    This recipe is amazing – people were literally fighting over it.

    Cheesy Potatoes au Gratin
    recipe adapted from Emeril Lagasse

    2 lbs. russet potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly (not too thin – about 1/4″)
    1/2 lb. cheddar cheese
    1 1/2 c. heavy cream
    salt, to taste
    pepper, to taste
    garlic powder, to taste
    onion powder, to taste

    Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a medium gratin dish with butter. Cover the cottom of the pan with an overlapping layer of potatoes. Lightly season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder and top with a layer of cheese. Continue layering potatoes, seasoning and cheese, ending with the remaining cheese on top.

    Pour the cream over the potatoes, pressing lightly with your hands to cover the potatoes with cream. Cover with aluminum foil and bake until the cheese is absorbed into the potatoes and the potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife, about 50 minutes.

    Remove the foil and bake until the mixture is bubbly and the top is golden brown, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest 10 minutes before serving.

  • Becke (Columbus Foodie)

    And one more thing – make sure the cheese you use is a nice and Sharp NY (or similar) cheddar, be liberal with the cream, and make sure that your potatoes are cut sort of thickish (not paper thin, in other words)

  • Maxine

    Becke – thanks for the recipe! That will be my next attempt. You should submit the recipe to Recipe4Living also!

  • Kevin

    That Potato Gratin looks really good. The top is nice and golden brown.

  • Matt

    I’m a big fan of the Gratin Dauphinois in Particia Well’s Bistro cookbook. I think that the creme fraiche works better than heavy cream both for taste as well as the fact that it’s easier to spread.

    I posted a version of the recipe online here:

  • Ivonne

    I have yet to come across a gratin that is not delicous! Yours certainly looks amazing!

  • dreamin1

    I use a whole can of evaporated milk in mine, and add some onions to it too. I use a variety of cheeses-usually cheddar/jack varieties. I also add some pats of butter on top. I put the recipe online on recipezaar.

  • Gail Hickory

    Try adding a few drops (to taste) of hot pepper sauce (like Tabasco) to any of your cheese recipes, like Mac & Cheese or Potatoes and start your sauce with a creamy Velveeta Sauce, then go to adding what ever other cheeses you wish. It’s a surprising hint from Julia Childs and James Beard that I heard about a long time ago.

  • Sweetldy

    Gratin Potatoes

    2 tablespoons butter or margarine
    2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    1 cup milk
    1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
    1/8 teaspoon pepper
    2 medium potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
    Paprika, optional
    In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in flour until smooth. Gradually add milk. bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Reduce heat; add the cheese, salt, Worcestershire sauce and pepper. Cook and stir until cheese is melted.
    Place potatoes in a greased 1-qt. baking dish. Top with cheese sauce. Cover and bake at 350° for 25 minutes. Uncover; bake 20 minutes longer or until potatoes are tender. Sprinkle with paprika if desired. Yield: 2 servings.

  • Recipe Collector

    Would any kind of cheese work on this one? Or is it really advisable to use parmesan/cheddar?
    I would like to try this recipe.

  • Lisa

    This is the recipe I always used….

    4 large potatoes sliced
    1pckt of french onion soup mix ( dry)
    1 cup tasty cheddar cheese grated
    300ml of cream
    Salt and pepper
    1tsp crushed garlic

    Preheat your oven for approx 15 mins

    peel and slice your potatoes I like them medium thin…. place in a saucepan and bring to boil then part cook them….

    Grease a oven proof dish and drain your potatoes then place them in… I like mine looking rather rustic seems more homely…

    Mix your cream, soup mix, salt and pepper together and pour over your potatoes then cover the dish with foil and bake in a oven for approx 25 mins or so…..

    Take foil off your potatoes and put your cheese, bread crumbs on top then add little bits of butter over the bread crumbs….. put back in the oven until its golden brown….

    I have also had this with bacon and green onions in the cream also….. It tastes even better the next day ! enjoy.

    another fav is my mums french onion mash ! its so nice with stew…..

    4 medium potatoes
    1/2 packet of french onion soup mix ( dry)
    1/2 cup sour cream
    1/2 cup of thickened cream
    1 tbs butter
    salt, water for boiling
    chives or green onions for extra flavor

    Peel and boil your potatoes and place them in a saucepan with lots of salt and water…. boil until the potatoes are tender.

    In a small saucepan place your butter and heat until melted add your sour and thickened cream and stir together, add your soup mix then cook until thickened takes 5 mins or less.

    Mash your potatoes, add your cream mixture and mix together add either chives or green onions for added flavour…

    this is a warm potatoe salad recipe btw but i use it with any meals its a big favourite with the family !

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