Au gratin dishes are usually topped with crumbs or cheese

Ask the Chef

Sunday Gourmet

February 08, 2004|By Jim Coleman | Jim Coleman,Knight Ridder / Tribune

What's the difference between au gratin potatoes and scalloped potatoes, and do you have a recipe for au gratin potatoes? I have bought both in box form and I don't think there is a difference between the two.

First things first: Put the boxes back on the shelf and walk away from that aisle in the store. Now that we can breathe easier, let's get to your question.

Yes, there is a difference between au gratin and scalloped potatoes. The key difference is in the "au gratin" part, because that term refers to foods topped with bread crumbs or cheese and then browned in the oven. Au gratin potatoes have such a topping; scalloped potatoes don't.

In fact, there are shallow pieces of cooking and service ware called (of all things) au gratin dishes that are designed to go directly from the oven to the table.

Now, these days when someone says "au gratin," it usually means topped with cheese. In fact, I think if you look on the back of one of those worrisome and strangely identical boxes, you will find it includes a small amount of dried cheese stuff. We can do much better than that. I hope you enjoy this recipe, and please serve it with a main course that does not come out of a box.

Real Au Gratin Potatoes

Serves 4

3 cups sliced cooked potatoes

6 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 cups milk

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon garlic powder

salt and pepper

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 cup soft bread crumbs

Place potatoes in a shallow, broiler-proof baking dish. In a saucepan over medium-low heat, melt 6 tablespoons butter. Remove 3 tablespoons of the melted butter to a small bowl and reserve. Add the flour to the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter in the saucepan. Stir to blend well; gradually stir in the milk.

Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until sauce is thick and smooth. Add the thyme, garlic powder, and salt and pepper to taste and continue to stir. Add the cheese and continue stirring until the cheese is melted. Pour the sauce over the potatoes in the baking dish and mix gently.

Place bread crumbs in a bowl and drizzle with the remaining 3 tablespoons of melted butter. Toss to coat. Sprinkle buttered bread crumbs evenly over the potatoes. Bake potatoes au gratin at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes to heat through, then broil until golden brown.

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