23.4.10

I Think I Have Mastered Scalloped Potatoes

I had a wonderful chat with my friend Eileen awhile ago.  Of course the conversation always ends up in the kitchen.  She was bemoaning her scalloped potatoes for her Easter dinner.  I, too, have never been able to accomplish this simple and ubiquitous dish.  Now that I am in small town Saskatchewan I must at least know how to make scalloped potatoes.  So began my quest.

The biggest problem that we both have is that the milk curdles.  I mean, why does it seem so difficult to us and the rest of the farm ladies just throw it together so easily.  They don't even begin with a roux.

One of my favourite on-line sources of recipes is Epicurious.com.  They  had about 3 pages of recipes but I don't want a fancy city style scalloped potatoes with exotic cheeses.  When I was a kid, cheese was not even seldom used, it was never used.

Perhaps I was slicing the potatoes too thickly.  The recipes all seem to say 1/8" thick.  That is very thinly sliced.  And I have seen reference to "drying with a kitchen towel" before assembling.


Take #1              This recipe says not to use a glass dish so I used my adorable little individual cast-iron Le Creuset pots.  I love these little cocottes.  I use them for roasted vegetables, stews, hot dips...absolutely everything.  Makes serving a snap and keeps the food hot.

Scalloped Potatoes               adapted from Gourmet magazine 2008

     3/4 t grated nutmeg
     2 t salt
     ¾ t pepper
     3 pounds large boiling potatoes (about 6)
     3 T unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
     2 c half and half cream

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in upper third. Generously butter a 2 1/2-quart shallow baking dish (not glass).

Stir together nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

Peel and thinly slice potatoes. Layer potatoes in baking dish, overlapping slightly and sprinkling each layer with some of salt mixture and some of butter. Pour cream over potatoes, pressing down gently to submerge potatoes in liquid.

Cover with foil and bake until potatoes are tender, 1 to 1 1/4 hours.

Remove gratin from oven and discard foil. Turn broiler on and broil gratin 2 to 3 inches from heat until top is browned in spots, 3 to 5 minutes.

Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Cooks' note: Potatoes are best the day they're made but can be baked and broiled 2 days ahead and chilled, uncovered, until cool, then covered. Reheat, covered, in a 350°F oven about 40 minutes.
 



Critique:  The flavour was good and there was very little curdling.  So much of the cream bubbled out during the cooking that it was very dry and dense.  It was not as creamy as I would like.  I am using a different oven so perhaps it is too hot.  This would cause excessive bubbling over.  But, honestly, it there were a few onions in it and a tad more pepper, it would be very good.  This picture is the same scalloped potatoes, reheated.  I added a little cream and put a slice of provolone cheese on top.  Much better but a little curdling.



Take #2    Fennel seems to be a common ingredient these days.  And, it is readily available, even here in the small town.  I like the idea of fennel. 



As I read many comments from people who truly make good scalloped potatoes, I still couldn't recognize what I was doing wrong.  The most common threads were:
   - slice the potatoes evenly
   - don't use an oven temperature that is too high.  350F is the maximum that is mostly successful
   - use a high fat cream.  The higher the fat content, the less protein and the less chance of curdling.  I used half and half (10%) in this recipe
   - it didn't seem to matter what flavourings you like, onion, fennel, cheese
   - don't layer the potatoes too thick. Layer only 3 slices deep.
   - only add the milk or cream to just below the surface of the potatoes.  Cover tightly with aluminum foil.  Remove the foil for the last 20 minutes so the top can brown.

Scalloped Potatoes with Fennel      serves 4

2 potatoes
1/2 fennel bulb
salt and pepper
1 cup half and half cream
1/4 cup butter, diced

Slice the potatoes and fennel thinly.  I used my food processor.  Using a gratin pan or shallow casserole, layer the potatoes by overlapping slightly.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Add half of the fennel.  Add the next layer of potatoes and season with salt and pepper.  Add the top layer of potatoes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Pour the cream into the pan up to about halfway.  Top with butter.  Bake at 350F for 45-55 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for another 15-20 minutes.

Critique:  These were just about perfect!  They did boil over a bit even though I didn't overfill with cream.  I guess you really only fill to the halfway mark.  Add some cream near the end so they are moister.  There was no curdling and the texture was great.  The fennel flavour was very mild but 'there'.  You could easily substitute with sweet onion.  I baked at 325F because I don't trust this oven.  I thought better to be too low than too high a temperature.

19 comments:

  1. Wow - these look so yummy there would be absolutely not a speck leftover in this house! Love your idea of adding fennel.

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  2. Make a roux of melted butter, mix in flour, pour in milk (evaporated works well!) salt and pepper, stir until sauce is thick. Pour over sliced potatoes, in buttered casserole dish, cover and cook at 350F for 1 hour. Uncover, cook another 30 minutes. Make the sauce thicker than you think normal, as water will come out of the potato slices. Betty Crocker knows best!

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  3. Thanks, June!

    buffalodick - I have never used the roux method, just because..., also saw a lot of reference to evaporated milk. Like I said, you all make it sound so easy!

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  4. Congrats on mastering this great dish. I love the photo of the melted cheese. That looks gorgeous. Amazing! Cheers!

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  5. Terrific job! I'm impressed you stuck with it! The pics are great as well as your determination. Well done!
    Pam

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  6. Wow. You did an awesome job. I love potatoes. I'm making company ones tonight.

    :)God Bless
    http://thewaywehomeschool.blogspot.com

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  7. Lazaro - It actually tasted good, too, with that cheese. I would do it again.
    Gypsy - I had to get it sooner or later!
    legendswife- I'm sure you make them very nicely!

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  8. Congratulatins, Sarah. I know it feels good to master a desired dish. I've never made this dish. I should make this one day. Thanks for sharing your journey with us.

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  9. What a great recipe, love the photo of the different stages of cooking. Very cute!

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  10. I had the same problem with scalloped potatoes but gave up instead! Glad to see your persevered for our benefit too!

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  11. Memoria - it has been a total enigma with me. So relieved that I can make something edible.

    3 hungry - thanks!

    Joumana - you know what I mean then! I had given up for so many years until my friend also told me she had problems.

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  12. I'm loving your little baking dishes. But they look even better with the divine scalloped potatoes.

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  13. Moogie - thanks! I love them. I worked one Christmas part-time at William Sonoma and I bought them with the points I earned. They are cast iron and exactly like the full size ones. Lids and all.

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  14. I am with you ... I never had great luck with scalloped potatoes unless I made them with cream... and then I have a weird memory of a Cooks Illustrated recipe a while back that promised success... don't need to look now since I have yours. I love them and can't wait to try them! Thanks for sharing your trials.. and those dishes are too adorable!

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  15. Deana - cream it will be for me from now on. I might try the evaporated milk, as well. I might make them once in awhile now!

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  16. scalloped potato perfection? my mom will have a fit--she loves those things. pretty nifty idea, adding fennel. thanks for figuring out the secrets for us!

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  17. I've been making scalloped potatoes for more than 40 years. Never ever made a roux or covered the dish with foil.

    Slice potatoes--thick is OK as long as they are all the same thickness. A speck of S&P, a little minced onion, sprinkle a little AP flour, and layer again. Fill (glass) casserole dish no more than 2/3 full. Pour milk (any kind you have, but I use 8th Continent Light soy) to reach about half way--no more or it will boil over and make a mess. Put cheese on the top, if you wish.

    Bake @ 325º for glass and 350º for ceramic, etc. Should be done in about 45 -50 minutes.

    Let rest for 10 -15 minutes before serving. Make them in a silicone muffin pan for individual servings.

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  18. Those look excellent! I wonder if making them in a larger, deeper vessel (as opposed to individual, albeit adorable!) little pots would make a difference? With the smaller pots you have so much more 'side' areas exposed to the heat.

    Just a thought.

    By the way, when I make scalloped potatoes I don't ever use cheese. I always make lots though, because the leftovers are an incredible ingredient for a fish, or clam, or corn....any kind of chowder.

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  19. When I make scalloped potatoes I make the Roux or basically a white sauce, like buffalodick said above, making it thicker due to the water in the potatoes, I then put cheese in the roux. depends on mood, can be Pameasan or Ramano, then sometimes it is extra sharp chees and melt into the white sauce (roux) bake in oven and add cheese near the end to the top to get bubbly and brown.

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