Bon Appétit: Discover France's Gratin Dauphinois

A VIDEO REPORT BY BILL DIEM

In a Culture Keeper first, at least in recent memory, we bring you a recipe! In a video report narrated in French (never fear, non-French speaker, we’ve included some English text for you), Bill Diem takes us from the market to the kitchen to a dinner table surrounded by friends ready to enjoy the evening’s star dish. Along the way he sheds some light on the history of this representative of France’s reputed culinary traditions.

Gratin Dauphinois is an oven dish of potatoes and milk, known in France since 1788 when, according to Wikipedia, it was served at a dinner offered to municipal officers of the city of Gap.

My documentary on the dish explains that while the base remains the same, there are different schools of thought when it comes to cooking time, oven temperature, and seasoning.  

Milk has been known in France forever, and potatoes arrived from Switzerland in the historical Dauphiné region of southeastern France at the end of the 16th century, about 60 years after Spanish conquistadors brought them back from the Incas. The firm potato known as Charlotte is often specified for this dish, but it did not arrive in France until 1981.

While the Gratin Dauphinois is a standard in France, statistics clearly mark changing habits that raise questions about its future. Consumption of milk at 49 liters (12.9 gallons) per person in 2016 is down 28 percent from 1996, and potato consumption of 52 kilograms (114.6 pounds) per person in 2016 was down from 95 kilograms (209.4 pounds) in 1960.

Here is the recipe that we followed with our camera:

Gratin Dauphinois

For six people.

45 minutes to prepare, 90 minutes in the oven.

 

Ingredients

  • 800 grams Charlotte potatoes

  • 300 grams liquid cream

  • 300 grams semi-skimmed milk

  • 1 clove of garlic

  • Salt and pepper

 

Method

  • Peel the potatoes.

  • Peel the garlic, cut it in half, and remove the central germ (the future stalk). Rub the oven dish with one half of the garlic.

  • Mix the cream and the milk in a pot that will go onto the stove.

  • Crush the other half of garlic and chop it into fine pieces. Mix it into the pot, adding salt and pepper.

  • Slice the potatoes thinly, about 2 millimeters, and mix into the pot. Bring to a boil on the stove, and simmer for 15 minutes.

  • Pour into the oven dish and bake for 90 minutes at 150°C (300°F).

  • Before serving you can put it under the grill briefly to “gratiner (grill/brown) le gratin.”


BILL DIEM

CULTURE KEEPER

Bill Diem, a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and Antioch College, contributes a weekly column to the Newberry News in Michigan, and he is learning to be a videojournalist. For three decades, he was a print journalist best known for his coverage of technology and industrial strategy in the global automobile industry. He is on Twitter as @bdiem27.