Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Guillotine for Veggies (and Fingers If You're Not Careful)

We're going to my brother-in-law's house for Turkey Day, and I'll be bringing the gratin Dauphinois I made last Thanksgiving. Everybody loved it, and his wife's parents couldn't get enough, so I figure I'll make everyone happy while making something super easy.

I've loved potato gratin even before I spent a semester studying passersby on the Cours Mirabeau literature in Aix-en-Provence.

I don't always talk about my kitchen tools but sometimes you come across something that makes life/work easier. In this case making the gratin used to take some work because I was a stickler for slicing my potatoes evenly. However, a little red piece of plastic with a white blade (like a guillotine) caught my eye at a local gourmet and gift store in the past year.
I hesitated to buy it (what? it does only one thing?), but I'm evolving into a person who is happy to let tools do more of the work.

Before I got my electric mixer, I used to whip egg whites with a hand-held whisk -- I KNOW! I must have been a masochist.

Just beware. The slicer may look like a toy, but I almost needed stitches after it mistook my finger for Marie Antoinette.
(After that, I found and now use a protective glove for dummies who don't feel like using the included hand guard.)

I use the 3.0 mm (thickest) setting for my scalloped potatoes, and there are four settings, down to 0.5 mm, which is great for paper-thin sweet-potato chips. I have no idea if the store still carries these paddle slicers, but I imagine you could find something similar in many forms/brands in various housewares or kitchen stores.
The point is that the gratin is such an easy classic and elegant dish to prepare.

Gratin Dauphinois with Leek

copyright Cynthia Ohms © 

Serves 4


1 Tbs butter, to butter gratin or other shallow baking dish (I use a 13-inch-square Corningware dish)
1 clove garlic,peeled and smashed
8 medium yellow or gold potatoes (or 4 russet potatoes)
Heavy cream (enough to drizzle coat over the potato slices)
Salt and Pepper, to taste
1 small leek, thinly sliced across (untraditional but tasty)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, with rack in middle.

1. Butter a baking dish large enough so that potatoes can be layered no more than 3/4 inch deep, and rub bottom with the smashed garlic. Discard garlic.

2. Slice potatoes thin and cover the bottom of the baking dish in a single layer of potato. Drizzle with cream to coat the slices. Then sprinkle with salt and pepper (and some leek, if you're like me). Repeat layers until potatoes are used. (I like flaky sea salt, but any salt will do.)

3. Cover the baking dish with a tight fitting lid or securely wrap the top in foil and bake until done. (Check after 45 minutes to see if fork pierces potato easily. When fully cooked, uncover and let brown lightly.)


* You can use milk instead of cream, if you had to, but I find that the milk is more likely to break (solids separate) a bit.

* A classic Dauphinois does not contain leeks, I think, but I love the combination of potatoes and leeks. Just do what you love. Cheese isn't traditionally in a gratin Dauphinois either, but if you really want it, then go ahead and doctor the recipe with some shredded __________ (you fill in the blank).

* Another variation on a gratin for Thanksgiving is to make it out of sliced sweet potato. Normally I don't love sweet potato casseroles for Thanksgiving. They're usually too sweet. But a French-style gratin of sweet potato, with leeks or maybe sauteed shallots and crumbled bacon --- I'm there.

* Avoid potatoes that are turning green. Although many of us have survived the occasional green potato chip, just be aware that green tint in a potato signals the presence of a toxin, solanine, that you don't want anyone, especially children, to eat.
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