Potatoes, milk, cream and a touch of other ingredients. The Classic French Gratin Dauphinois is proof that French cuisine doesn’t have to be complicated and often relies on simple ingredients to create a decadent dish. In this traditional French gratin, thinly sliced potatoes are baked slowly in creamy milk until utterly tender. It is a great classic of the French culinary repertoire, and one of the most beloved dishes to make in the Winter.
As its name suggests, the Gratin Dauphinois hails from the Dauphiné, a former province of southeastern France. Straddling the mountain range of the Alps, the Dauphiné is a region of mountain-style cooking, based on produce that can grow at high altitudes, such as potatoes.
Making a Classic French Gratin Dauphinois at home is an easy, affordable and comforting recipe. Here is the breakdown of this Classic French recipe.
A proper Baking Vessel
Back in the days, Gratins Dauphinois were traditionally baked in clay pots. Nowadays, any baking dish in clay, ceramic, glass or oven a Dutch-oven is acceptable. For this recipe, choose one that is big enough to contain 1.65 lbs of potatoes: 1.5 to 2.5 Quarts, but not any bigger. The gratin needs to be at least 3-inches high to be served into hefty slices.
Opt for baking Potatoes
Being the stars of the dish, choosing the right potatoes is of the utmost importance. Opt for baking potatoes that will release a great amount of starch while baking. This will bind all the ingredients together and make for the creamiest gratin.
In France, traditionalists of the Gratin Dauphinois recommend using only specific potato varieties, including the starchy Monalisa, the tender Nicola and older varieties like the Belle de Fontenay or the Charlotte.
In North America, you can also find great varieties to recreate this dish. Opt for fluffy Russets that have the most starch which makes for a creamy sauce, or for Yukon Golds that hold their shape well. For either one, one rule applies: do not rinse the potato slices! You want to keep all the stratches in, so they slowly release in the milk and create that signature creaminess.
Combine Milk and Cream
When the Gratin Dauphinois started to become a popular recipe in the 19th century in France, milk wasn’t exactly as we know it today. Often directly sourced from the local farms, milk was un-skimmed. It was thick, creamy and had a much higher fat content. Nowadays, the use of both 35%mf heavy cream and milk (whole or 2%) is required to create that same creamy consistency in the dish.
Flavorings: Garlic, Butter & no eggs!
As per tradition, only a few subtle flavors should be added into a Classic French Gratin Dauphinois.
Garlic, instead of being diced and added with other ingredients, is simply rubbed against the walls of the baking dish before filling it with the potatoes and creamy milk. I love how this lends a very subtle garlic flavor to the gratin – just enough to be noticed, yet not too much to be overwhelming.
A pinch of nutmeg and black pepper are also acceptable. Fresh thyme, although stepping away from the traditional recipe, is lovely too.
Some modern recipes by French authorities like Escoffier, Carrier, and De Croze call for the addition of cheese and eggs. I think eggs are de trop, giving the sauce an unpleasant, curdled texture. But I have to admit that I enjoy a light sprinkle of Alpine cheese, such as Swiss Gruyére or Emmental, on top.
Serve it 2 different ways
There are two different ways to serve a Gratin Dauphinois – both equally delicious – so I’ll you decide which one you prefer.
- By the spoon (as pictured here): home cooks, in general, prefer to it serve the dish hot and by the spoon, for creamy and slightly messy platefuls.
- In clean slices: In restaurants, you will more likely find it served cut in clean squares slices. To do so, let the gratin cool completely to room temperature and then pop it in the fridge for at least two hours, or ideally overnight. When ready to serve, cut cleans slices, wrap them individually in foil and re-heat under a hot broiler.
I hope you’ll love this Classic French Gratin Dauphinois recipe as much as I do! If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment.
- This recipe works perfectly for a 10 1/2 inch x 7 1/2 inch (26.7x19cm) gratin dish. Slightly bigger or smaller will work fine too.
Serve it as a side with:
- Classic French Beef Bourguignon
- Braised Rabbit with Prunes (Lapin aux Pruneaux)
- Braised Chicken Thighs with Garlic and Onion
- Coq au Vin Blanc
1.65 lbs baking potatoes, ie. Russet or Yukon Gold
1 cup (240ml/8 fl oz) heavy cream (35% mf)
½ cup (125ml/4 floz) milk, whole or 2%
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp (28g) butter (salted or unsalted), at room temperature.
1 garlic clove, cut in half
Optional: 1/3 cup (about 40g) Gruyère Cheese, grated.
Preheat your oven to 350F (180C), with a rack in the middle.
Step 1 - In a large pot over medium heat, combine the cream, milk, nutmeg, pepper, and salt and bring to a simmer.
Step 2 - Peel the potatoes and thinly slice them, ideally with a mandoline. Drop the potato slices immediately into the milk (to avoid browning). Cover the pot and simmer for 10 minutes, until potatoes are just tender and can be easily pierced with a sharp knife. Stir occasionally to avoid having the potatoes stick to the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat.
Step 3 - Rub the inside of a gratin dish with the cut side of a halved garlic clove. Then, grease the inside of the dish evenly with 1 tablespoon of butter. Transfer the potatoes and milk to the dish and spread them out in an even layer. Dot the top with the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter.
Step 4 - Cover the dish with foil, poke a small hole in the center of the foil (for the steam to escape) and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and sprinkle the grated cheese evenly on top of the gratin. Bake for another 30 minutes (uncovered) until the cheese turns golden. Let the gratin rest for at least 15 minutes before serving.