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The gratin dauphinois

This "gratin style potatoes" as North Americans call it has been a traditional French dish since the 18th century even though its origins date back to the 16th century and the appearance of the tuber in Europe. Officially identified since a famous meal during the French Revolution, the preparation of finely cut potatoes cooked in whole milk has never left French tables, whether they are family or gastronomic.

A revolutionary birth

Born in the Dauphiné, an ancient historical territory now covered by the departments of Isère, Drome and Hautes-Alpes, this dish also called "potatoes à la dauphinoise" appeared, in a first slightly different form, between the 16th and 17th centuries in Italy and Switzerland, but it was in 1788 that it became part of French (gastronomic) history.

On July 12 of that pre-revolutionary year, the Duke of Clermont-Tonnerre served it to his officers who had avoided, under his recommendation, a confrontation with the insurgents. Associated with this narrowly avoided massacre in the town of Gap, the dish, modestly composed of potato slices, milk and garlic, quickly became popular and its recipe spread to inns throughout the Southeast region before arriving in Paris.

142 years after it was mentioned in the report of this famous military meal, the French capital has a restaurant called the Gratin Dauphinois. If we don't know the exact recipe used by its Savoyard owner, it is likely that it did not include cheese and eggs, these ingredients appearing only much later and only in certain regions.

To your aprons

If one respects tradition, a gratin dauphinois is only made of potatoes, rather yellow and not too firm, and rich farm milk. More and more, the latter is replaced by a mixture of milk and cream and, as far as tubers are concerned, it is mainly Charlottes or Monalisas that are favored (depending on the more or less sweet taste sought). For the preparation of this now unavoidable family meal it is very simple:

  • The potatoes (about 1 kg), after being washed and peeled, are cut into slices more or less thin (3 millimeters on average).
  • In a dish with a bottom previously perfumed with cloves of garlic, 90 cl of boiled milk (sometimes decorated with a bay leaf and thyme) are then placed on the slices arranged in parallel.
  • The whole is then covered with 10 cl of cream and put in the oven (at 180°) for 30 to 40 minutes.

Before admiring the gratinated aspect obtained and satisfying the gourmets attracted by the good smell coming out of the oven, it is recommended to let the dish rest for about 45 minutes. This will make it even tastier, especially if, as in some regions (notably the Vercors), leftover old cheeses have been used to accentuate the gratin effect. Bon appétit !

Valérie from Comme des Français


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