What’s not to love about potatoes cooked in heavy cream? Not much, especially when you’re talking about Gratin Dauphinois — a dish based on thinly sliced potatoes bathed in heavy cream and topped with a thick layer of Gruyère cheese.
But I did discover one downside to the dish at a recent cooking class at The French Kitchen in Colorado Springs taught by Blandine Brutel.
“This is a dish that is a specialty of the Dauphiné region of France where I grew up,” she said. “I have found it is easier to cook the potatoes on the stovetop before layering them in the baking dish. Otherwise, it is so hard to tell when the potatoes are done.”
You must be diligent about stirring the potatoes when precooking with the cream. Before you know it, you’ll have a layer of scorched stuff to scrape off the bottom of the pot. That’s what happened during our class in spite of all six of us fussing over the simmering pot.
While soaking and scrubbing the crusty pan, I had a sort of culinary epiphany: Cook the potatoes and cream in the microwave.
I hardly could wait to get home to give the idea a try. It worked great and there was not a speck of scorched gook with to clean up.
Essentially, microwave cooking is using steam to cook, so you’re not likely to have the scorching issue. What you do need to remember is to use a lower power and stir the mixture often. I used 50 percent power, stirring at 5-minute intervals.
Finding the proper cooking vessel is necessary, too. I used a two-quart Pyrex measuring bowl. It had a handle that made moving the bowl in and out of the microwave easier. It also had a wide base so I could stir the potatoes easily from top to bottom. As the starch was released from the potatoes during cooking, it thickened the cream.
Brutel is correct about precooking the potatoes to assure the correct doneness, particularly at our altitude. Using the microwave method for her class would not be practical, since she usually is doubling the recipes. But for the home cook, using the microwave is the way to go.
Brutel teaches an array of classes, including one that is entirely about potatoes, and other taught only in French. For details: tfkcc.com.
Here’s her recipe adapted for the microwave.
4 large Colorado potatoes
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 pinches nutmeg
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and mashed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 pound Gruyère cheese
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel and rinse potatoes. Slice thinly. Place in glass microwave-safe bowl with cream, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Mix well. Microwave at 50 percent power for five minutes. Stir and repeat microwaving and stirring four more times or until the potatoes are tender when tested with a sharp knife. Rub garlic and butter on bottom and sides of a one-quart oblong baking dish. Pour in potatoes and cover with cheese. Bake about 20 minutes. Makes six servings.
Teresa Farney is the food editor at the Colorado Springs (Co) Gazette.