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Four decadent potato gratins.

Photograph by Jim Scherer / Styling by Catrine Kelty

’Tis the season of indulgence, and an unabashedly rich, super-creamy potato gratin, a classic of French cooking, delivers. Its simplest form, often referred to as Gratin Dauphinois, is strongly associated with the Alpine region of southwest France, near the Swiss and Italian borders, once called Dauphine. The dairy varies with the cook: I’ve seen recipes with milk, cream, creme fraiche, sour cream, and combinations. I favor half-and-half with a bit of heavy cream added for extra richness. With a tart green salad and wine, these gratins make simple, yet decadent, dinners. They’re so rich that meat would be an afterthought.

Pressing down on the gratin about halfway through cooking helps a thick top crust to firm, and using a wide, shallow baking dish maximizes the surface area. To save yourself a hideous mess in the oven, always cook gratin on a baking sheet to catch drips.

ELEMENTAL POTATO GRATIN

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Makes one 2-quart gratin (serves 6 as a side dish)

1 garlic clove, smashed

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, soft, for dish

2½ pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced ( inch)

Salt and pepper

Freshly grated nutmeg

2 cups half-and-half plus ½ cup heavy cream, warmed

With the rack in the upper-middle position, heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil and set aside. Rub the inside of a shallow, broiler-safe 2-quart dish with the garlic; allow garlic to dry for 2 to 3 minutes, and butter the dish. Shingle in a third of the potatoes and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt and pepper and nutmeg to taste; repeat to make 2 more layers of potatoes, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Pour the half-and-half and the cream over the potatoes, and shimmy the dish gently for the cream to settle. Set the dish on the baking sheet and bake until the potatoes are very tender and the surface is well browned, about 1½ hours, rotating the baking sheet and pressing down on the potatoes with a wide spatula to submerge after 45 minutes. Allow to stand at least 10 minutes and serve.

Variation

ELEMENTAL POTATO GRATIN WITH GRUYERE

Follow the recipe for Elemental Potato Gratin, sprinkling each layer of seasoned potatoes with ½ cup of grated gruyere (about 6 ounces total).

JANSSON’S TEMPTATION

Makes one 2-quart gratin (serves 6 as a side dish)

If you can find Scandinavian anchovies, use them, and omit the rinsing, soaking, and sugar.

TIP Yukon Gold potatoes (at right) work well in gratins, keeping their texture without turning mushy as russet potatoes (left) tend to do.

Photograph by Jim Scherer / Styling by Catrine Kelty

TIP Yukon Gold potatoes (at right) work well in gratins, keeping their texture without turning mushy as russet potatoes (left) tend to do.

15 oil-packed anchovy fillets, or more, to taste

Sugar

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 tablespoon neutral oil

2 medium onions, chopped

Salt and pepper

2½ pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into matchsticks (about 8 cups)

3 cups half-and-half plus ¾ cup heavy cream, warmed

Rinse the anchovies under running water and, in a small bowl, cover them with water. Set aside to soak for about 10 minutes, then drain, mince, sprinkle with a tiny pinch of sugar, and set aside. Meanwhile, with the rack in the upper-middle position, heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil and set aside. Rub the inside of a shallow, broiler-safe 2-quart dish with 1 tablespoon of the butter.

In a medium skillet over medium heat, heat the oil and remaining butter, swirling pan to combine. When the butter is melted and the foaming subsides, add the onions and ½ teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the anchovies and cook, stirring, about 1 minute longer; set aside off heat.

In a very large bowl, mix the potatoes, onion mixture, 1½ teaspoons salt, and pepper to taste to combine well. Turn the mixture into the baking dish and spread evenly. Pour the half-and-half and the cream over the potatoes, shimmy the dish gently for the cream to settle, and press the potato mixture down into the liquid. Set the dish on the baking sheet and bake until most of the liquid is absorbed and the surface is well browned, about 1½ hours, rotating the sheet and pressing down on the potatoes with a wide spatula to submerge after 45 minutes. Allow to stand at least 10 minutes and serve.

TRUFFLED POTATO GRATIN WITH MUSHROOMS

Makes one 2-quart gratin (serves 6 as a side dish)

Generally I find truffle oil to be very strong, so I use it sparingly here to give just a suggestion of flavor.

1 tablespoon neutral oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1½ pounds button mushrooms, sliced

Salt and pepper

2 shallots, minced

4 teaspoons truffle oil, or more, to taste

2½ pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced (1/8 inch)

1½ cups grated Italian-style truffle cheese (about 6 ounces)

2 cups half-and-half plus ½ cup heavy cream, warmed

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil and 1 tablespoon butter, swirling to combine. When the butter is melted and the foaming subsides, add the mushrooms and ½ teaspoons salt, and cook, stirring, until the mushrooms brown lightly, about 10 minutes, adding the shallots after 7 minutes. Set the skillet aside; once the mixture is cooled, stir in 2 teaspoons truffle oil.

Meanwhile, with the rack in the upper-middle position, heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil and set aside. Rub the inside of a shallow, broiler-safe 2-quart baking dish with the remaining butter.

Shingle in a third of the potatoes, sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt, pepper to taste, half of the mushroom mixture, and about a third of the grated cheese. Repeat with half of the remaining potatoes, salt, pepper, the remaining mushroom mixture, and half of the remaining grated cheese; repeat to make a top layer of potatoes and cheese.

Pour the half-and-half and the cream over the potatoes; shimmy the dish gently for the cream to settle. Set the dish on the baking sheet and bake until the potatoes are very tender and the surface is well browned, about 1½ hours, rotating the baking sheet and pressing down on the potatoes with a wide spatula after 45 minutes. Allow to stand at least 10 minutes, drizzle evenly with the remaining truffle oil (or more, to taste), and serve.

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