Cave into your gratin craving


HOT POTATO  Unctuous, creamy, cheesy and garlicky, potato gratin feels rewarding decadent.

The Cabots

My most memorable meal of the summer was a dinner celebrating my friend Karen’s birthday. Our friend Emmy hosted a barbecue. She truly is the hostess with the mostess; there was lobster in a light mayo dressing to start, then deliciously marinated steaks, salmon and chicken cooked to perfection on the barbecue. Don’t get me started on the salads and sauces!  
Our friend Fay provided a potato gratin – it was to die for. Unctuous, creamy, cheesy, garlicky. For weeks I craved a potato gratin but kept putting it off. Then I caved.

Patience pays
Potato gratin is one of my favourite things ever, but I don’t make it often because it scares me. Though ostensibly simple, I’ve had issues.
Cut the potato slices too thin and they can sort of melt into each other. Too thick and they never get soft enough. The big dilemma – to parboil or not parboil the spuds? In water or in the cream? Or is that just too faffy to contemplate?
There are hundreds of recipes and variations. There’s the spuds themselves – King Edward or Maris Pipers are good. Then you need a couple of cloves of garlic. For the sauce you can use cream only. Or double cream. Or half cream and half milk. Gruyère or Parmesan cheese can be added.
I did intend to hand slice the potatoes then parboil, but the sharp knife was in the dishwasher that was mid-cycle. So I went for the mandolin slicer, fearful all the while for my fingers.  You need time to guillotine this amount of potatoes and a lot of patience! Now the potato was too thin to parboil, so, following advice from the iconic chef Elizabeth David, I washed the slices in cold water and dried with a linen tea towel. (Did I mention the need for time and patience?)
I was working on a ratio of 2kg of potatoes to 500ml cream but it didn’t look right, so I used about 1.5kg of spuds. I had intended to use cheese, then discovered I had none. It didn’t matter. The gratin was supposed to be in the oven for and hour and forty-five minutes but I kept an eye on it and it turned out to be done in one hour and a quarter.
The dish turned out delicious and the faff was forgotten!

Potato gratin

What you need

  • 1.5 kg waxy potatoes
  • 500ml single cream
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Butter
  • Sea salt and pepper

What you do
Preheat the oven to 150ºC. Thickly butter a gratin dish. Peel the potatoes. Slice on a mandolin to a width of approximately 3mm. Wash in cold water to remove all the starch and gently pat dry with a clean tea towel.
Mince the garlic and mix well with the cream. Season generously with salt and pepper.
Layer the potato slices in the dish, add the cream, layer again, cream again until you’ve run out of spuds.
If you feel you haven’t quite enough cream, add a dash of whole milk. Dot a few knobs of butter around the gratin.
Pop in the oven and take a peek every 15 minutes or so. If the gratin is browning too quickly, cover with tin foil for a while. After 45 minutes start checking the softness of the potatoes. If it’s not golden enough on the top, cook at 175ºC for the last ten minutes.
Good luck!

— Sandra

The Cabot family live and work in Lanmore, outside Westport. Fresh, seasonal foods are their passion, from country markets to growing, making and selling. They love cooking and eating at the kitchen table, while Redmond and Sandra are kept on their toes with children Penny and Louis. Here they share their favourite recipes.