Whether you call them scalloped potatoes, potatoes au gratin or creamy au gratin potatoes, they are flat out fantastic and an elegant side dish. Healthy? Not necessarily, but they are always a crowd pleaser. This recipe is at least healthier, with less fat and calories than the traditional dish made with all heavy cream. And it's worth every delicious bite. If you're on a gluten-free diet, you are safe and no one else will even know.
Growing up I loved scalloped potatoes and still do. Mom made them the accepted 1960′s way - from the mystery box. No fresh potatoes. Dehydrated potato chips layered into a casserole dish, then covered with a mixture of milk and a powdered mystery packet. If that is what you know of this marvelous classic potato dish, skip the chips and packets and make the real thing.
The Real Deal
Years ago, a dear friend and fellow chef introduced me to the real deal – French Potatoes Dauphinoise. We know it by many names, but it's the same thing. It's a classic comfort food dish of thinly sliced potatoes layered with cheese and heavy whipping cream.
I still remember the first time I had it. Being a potato lover, I was hooked. But being made with all heavy cream is a huge indulgence. So how do you lighten it up and make it a bit healthier? Start with the dairy.
Milk or Cream?
I generally use whole milk to keep it lighter and reduce fat and calories. What also works is a combination of milk and half and half. Can you use cream in this recipe? Absolutely. It's nice for a holiday or a splurge. Try using just part cream for added richness. You decide for these marvelous creamy cheesy potatoes.
Healthier Scalloped Potatoes
Here is how I make this great classic today. Less fat for sure, but still delicious. Like I said, not necessarily healthy, but healthier, so that you can enjoy it once in awhile.
For Accurate Slicing
Proper scalloped potatoes depends on slicing the potatoes uniformly thin to ⅛-inch thick. The only way to do that is with a mandoline slicer, hand-slicer or a food processor with the thin slicing blade attachment.
Mandolins are a terrific kitchen tool for slicing. Potatoes, apples, pears, beets, carrots and other fruits and vegetable can be sliced uniformly thin. They come in all price ranges from $40 – $400. Food processors are faster and a tool I could not live without. Use the thin slicing attachment.
Use a square 9x9 baker or an oval 2-quart baking dish.
The Right Pan
Use a saute pan, not a fry pan or a skillet. The difference is the shape. A saute pan has straight sides, not sloped sides. That allows the potatoes to simmer in the milk and not boil over. See the pan in the photo below.
If you don't have one, don't fill your pan too full of potatoes and milk as it could boil over. Keep a close eye on it. Another option is to use a wide pot.
This recipe features simple ingredients for a good thing; a cheesy potato casserole.
For potatoes, choose yellow-fleshed gold or Yukon Gold at grocery stores. On the starch scale, they fall between starchy russets and waxy red potatoes.
While gold and Yukon Gold potatoes are not the same, both work for scalloped potatoes. Yellow or gold potatoes have moist flesh and wonderful flavor that work perfectly in au gratin style potatoes.
Russet potatoes are too starchy. Saved them for mashed potatoes or baked potatoes. Use red potatoes for roasting or making smashed potatoes.
The best peeler? This inexpensive one is all I use.
Choose Gruyere cheese or aged Gruyere. It has a richer, nuttier flavor. If all you can find is gruyere, not a problem. It's still delicious. For Parmesan cheese, get the real thing: Parmigiano-Reggiano or the best you can find.
Grate it yourself or buy it grated. A food processor makes quick work of grating cheese. If you can't find Gruyere, choose a good melting cheese such as sharp cheddar cheese (or mild), gouda cheese, Swiss or fontina.
This recipe is worth buying and chopping fresh thyme, but dried works as well. The rule for substituting dried herbs for fresh herbs is using ⅓ the amount of dried as fresh. So instead of a tablespoon, use a teaspoon.
Choose smooth, firm potatoes with no cuts, bruised spots or green areas.
Chef's tip: buy large potatoes, not small ones, because they are easier to handle when peeling. Skip the bags if possible and choose large potatoes from a pile or open bin.
First thing, peel then slice potatoes ⅛-inch thick, then simmer the slices in milk with fresh chopped thyme (or dried thyme) in a large skillet or saute pan until tender.
Next, layer potato slices into a casserole dish (buttered, oiled or with cooking spray) with grated Gruyere and Parmesan cheeses and bake until golden brown on top and the potatoes are set and a bit firm. They will set more upon cooling for a few minutes which makes slicing easier.
- When the potatoes are simmering, keep a watchful eye that they do not boil over. Turn the heat down a bit if needed. It's messy to clean up.
- Set the baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet for easier transference to the oven and just in case it bubbles over you'll have less of a mess to clean up.
How to Serve
Of course it's marvelous with turkey at Thanksgiving for a change from mashed potatoes.
For side dishes, go simple, like basic green beans. The French beans, called haricot vert, are nice, tender, and done in 5 minutes.
Leftovers and Re-heating
Leftover scalloped potatoes keep in the refrigerator in an airtight container for about 4 days. To re-heat, microwave portions until hot or in a pre-heated 350°F oven covered with aluminum foil until hot.
How long depends on how cold they are out of the refrigerator. They should reach 165°F internally measured with a digital thermometer.
Potatoes au Gratin (scalloped potatoes)
- Food processor, mandoline or handheld slicer
- 2 ¼ pounds Yukon gold potatoes
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
- 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- several pinches of freshly ground or grated nutmeg
- 4 ounces aged gruyere cheese
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Peel and Slice the Potatoes
- Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Peel the potatoes and slice on a mandolin or hand-held slicer adjusted to ⅛″ (3-4 cm) thickness.
- Place the potatoes and milk in a deep sauté pan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add the thyme, salt and pepper. Cover and turn heat to low. Watch carefully and don’t let the milk boil over. It’s messy to clean up and happens in the blink of an eye. Simmer over low for about 5 minutes or until potatoes are tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp paring knife. Remove potatoes from the heat and allow to cool a bit.
Assemble the Casserole
- Layer half of the potatoes in a 9x9 square casserole or oval baking dish. Sprinkle with the nutmeg. Add ⅔ of the grated cheese. Layer on the rest of the potatoes and top with remaining ⅓ of the cheese and Parmesan.
Bake the Potatoes
- Bake casserole uncovered for 50-60 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes. Slice and serve.