Alice Waters’ Potato Gratin

just baked potato gratin

My sister, the doctor, lover of pies and Peeps, is hosting Thanksgiving this year. She has it all under control, sleeping arrangements organized, color-coded cooking timeline mapped out, and the menu finalized, promising her 12 guests a turkey, a spanakopita, cranberry sauce (not this one) and pie.

To help lighten her load, I’ve signed up to bring punch, stuffing, bread, and this potato gratin, a dish my mother has served at nearly every big holiday gathering for as long as I can remember, one that often steals the show no matter what it’s beside, turkey or otherwise.

It comes from Chez Panisse Vegetables, which offers a number of enticing combinations — potato with turnips or celery root or leeks or sweet potato — but we almost always use potatoes exclusively and keep the seasonings simple too: salt, pepper, thyme and just a dash of freshly grated nutmeg. Submerged in a mixture of equal parts heavy cream and chicken stock, topped with a mixture of gruyère and parmesan cheeses, these potatoes emerge irresistibly crispy on top and creamy underneath.

This gratin couldn’t be easier to throw together, and you can’t mess it up. I promise. Hope all of your Thanksgiving preparations are going well.

just baked gratin

My mother swears by red potatoes. I’ve learned not to question.
red potatoes

peeled potatoes

A mandoline makes quick work of the slicing, but if you don’t have one, don’t worry.
sliced potatoes

Rub baking dish with butter and garlic:
butter and garlic

Layer potatoes overtop:
1st layer of potato gratin

Season the potatoes with salt, pepper, and thyme leaves:
1st layer of potato gratin

Add another layer of potatoes and season in the same manner:
ready for cheese

Submerge the potatoes with equal parts heavy cream and chicken stock…:

… then top with a combination of grated gruyère and parmesan cheeses:
topped with cheese

Bake for 45 minutes to an hour:
just baked potato gratin

A few other ideas for Thanksgiving (images link to recipes): Red Wine Cranberry Sauce, Peasant Bread, Pomegranate-Green Olive Salad, Cheddar Biscuits, Balsamic Brussels Sprouts, Apple Sauce, Slow Cooked Kale, Philadelphia Fish House Punch, Cranberry Buttermilk Breakfast Cake, French Apple Tart, Apple Pie, Maple Cream Tart. And you can find a few more ideas here.

red wine cranberry sauceMini Loaves of Peasant BreadGreen Olive, Pomegranate & Walnut Salad

Cheddar BiscuitsBrussels sprouts with pancettaApple Sauce

Slow-Cooked KalePhiladelphia Fish House Punchbuttermilk cranberry breakfast cake

French Apple TartApple PieMaple Cream Tart

Chez Panisse Vegetables Potato Gratin

Source: Chez Panisse Vegetables

I love the simplicity of the Chez Panisse Vegetables recipes, so I’ve written this one out exactly as it appears in the book and have offered some guidance on quantities/timing below:

Rub an earthenware gratin dish with smashed peeled garlic and butter. Layer overlapping slices of potato cut 1/8-inch thick. Season with salt, pepper, and thyme leaves. Make another layer of potato slices and season again. Moisten with cream, cream and chicken stock, or milk to the top level of the top layer of potatoes. According to taste, sprinkle the top with grated Parmesan or Gruyère cheese, and distribute thin shavings of butter on top. Bake 45 minutes to 1 hour in a preheated oven at 375ºF (see temperature note below), until nicely browned.

Many variations are possible: potato and turnip, potato and celery root, potato and winter squash, potato and leek, potato and and black truffle, or potato and sweet potato. Try adding a layer of some other delicious thing between the potato layers: sorrel, green garlic or roasted garlic, grilled chicory, sautéed wild mushrooms, caramelized onions, kale or chard, black olives, artichoke hearts.

My Notes:

If you need to make these ahead of time, just reheat covered with foil in a preheated 350ºF oven for about 15 to 20 minutes or until cream-stock mixture is bubbling.

softened butter
1 clove garlic, smashed
3 lbs. red skinned potatoes, peeled (I used about 2 lbs. 10 oz. peeled potatoes)
kosher salt
fresh thyme sprigs
freshly grated nutmeg (optional, but really nice — I forgot to do this)
1.5 cups (or more or less) chicken stock
1.5 cups (or more or less) heavy cream
1 heaping cup (about 2 oz.) grated gruyère cheese
1/4 cup (less than 1 oz.) grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

1. Preheat oven to 425ºF. Rub an earthenware gratin dish (I used a 9×13-inch Pyrex) with smashed peeled garlic and butter.

2. Using a mandoline or knife, cut potatoes 1/8-inch thick and layer overlapping slices in the prepared pan. Season with salt (don’t be afraid to use a heavier hand with the salt — potatoes can handle it), pepper, and thyme leaves (no need to chop — just pull and scatter). Lightly grate nutmeg over top — be sure to go light. Make another layer of potato slices and season again in the same manner. Moisten with cream, cream and chicken stock, or milk to the top level of the top layer of potatoes. (I used 1.5 cups each of heavy cream and chicken stock, but I probably could have used more, and you may need more or less depending on the size of the pan you are using.) Sprinkle the top with grated cheeses, and distribute thin shavings of butter (forgot to do this) on top. Bake 45 minutes to 1 hour, checking after 40 minutes or so to make sure the potatoes are not browning too quickly. If they are browning too quickly, cover the pan with foil and continue baking until the potatoes are tender and the top is nicely browned. You can also turn the temperature down to 375ºF if necessary.

Seriously, I cold totally skip the turkey.
plate of potatoes


    • says

      Love this idea! Honestly though, it doesn’t need any extra cheese. The cream adds enough richness, and the cheese makes the topping crispy. If you want it richer, I suggest using higher ration of cream to chicken stock (as opposed to equal parts). Make sense?

    • says

      haha, it’s not that I don’t like it…it’s just not my favorite. I’m also (as you probably can gather if you’ve been reading my blog for awhile now) highly influenced by my mother who detests (though prefers not to admit so) turkey :)

  1. Judy Huyck says

    Now I know why you are such a fabulous cook!!! I have been a longtime fan of your Mother. I have been to her restaurant in Berkeley.

  2. margie says

    I much prefer a gratin to mashed potatoes, and this one looks irresistible. I might have to give this one a try, maybe with the celery root. Yum!

  3. Laurie F says

    Hey, AW coulda been your mom! But I’m sure you prefer the real thing! :) Anyway, the dish looks amazing and I love the idea of the layer of garlic or onion in between! I’m going to try it all different ways….The store where we bought the stove called, we’ll bring it next Friday they said….I asked them if they remembered what day next Thursday is! lol….not! I said, you put that stove in your glovebox but you’re bringing it before Thursday! 😉

    • says

      Haha, that is hilarious! How fun that you are going to have a new stove before Thanksgiving! You aren’t going to break that thing in slowly I guess?! I love it. Can’t wait to see hear how it performs on turkey day! Happy Thanksgiving, Laurie!

  4. says

    Man, you know I’m really a believer in mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving because of — gravy! But these have my mouth watering. They sound awesome! Maybe, since my sister-in-law always crosses her fingers that I will cook “traditional” dishes and not anything with too much of a twist, maybe I can bring these to my parents’ Thanksgiving dinner. Who cares, they’re going to be on my table one of these days very soon, holiday or not!

    Love that you share family recipes like this with us! Makes it so special. Also, your sister sounds extremely organized. Not to sound braggy — I dont know if it is just coming with practice — but I am finally moving away from my time-lines and to-do lists for Thanksgivings, the process seems more predictable now. Perhaps it helps that I have settled on like the same turkey method, the same cranberry sauce, etc — at least I spend less time narrowing down my menu 😉 Thanks again Ali!

  5. says

    I like your use of cream and stock so it’s not too heavy. Usually when I do something similar I usually do a white sauce which thickens up so because quite a creamy dish even though there’s no actually cream in it. Yours looks like the potato is the star rather than the sauce!

    • says

      That’s my mother’s doing, and I’ve only ever made it with equal parts heavy cream/stock, but my mom says it is way too rich when only cream is used. And you are right — the potatoes definitely aren’t lost here!

  6. says

    Ali, this looks so good! We are in Philly for Thanksgiving, but I am going to have to make this anyway… and maybe I’ll finally overcome my fear of the mandoline!

  7. says

    I love these potatoes; seriously – I LOVE this dish. I use Parmesan, I use Gruyere, I use bacon, I use green onions – I use this dish to make all kinds of gratin potatoes and I LOVE this recipe. O my, O joy, O deliciousness – whole and good and wonderful.

    • says

      So happy to hear this Rene! You are funny. I share your enthusiasm for this too — it’s what I look forward to most every holiday, but I love making it year round too in various incarnations. Thanks for writing in!

  8. Karen says

    Love to make this dish for a special family gathering. I need to know if I can do the night before and if so at what point would I resume? Do you need to bake as soon as it is assembled? Please advise and be specific . Thanks for your help. I am making this week, hopefully!

    • says

      Hi Karen — this is definitely a crowd pleaser and it feeds a crowd, so nice choice :) The farthest in advance that I have made this is Thanksgiving morning, and then I reheated it covered with aluminum foil until it was warm. I do feel it’s best made fresh and served when it cools briefly. I’ve never tried assembling it the night before, but I kind of think it might work. The reason I say this is that I have potatoes cut into fry-shape pieces that have been soaking in water for over a day now. They are hard still — raw potatoes don’t seem to soak up liquid and turn soft, so I have a feeling it will work. I would not top it with the cheese until the day you decide to bake it — grated cheese can dry out in the fridge. But I would make sure the potatoes are mostly submerged in the chicken stock-cream mixture, then I would put a layer of plastic wrap on top and press it into it so that any potatoes bobbing on top aren’t exposed to too much air. The next day, I would remove from the fridge while the oven is preheating. Grate your cheese, sprinkle it on top, and proceed with the recipe. Good luck! Let me know if there is anything else!

    • Jessica says

      Forgot to add – substituted gouda for the gruyere. AND I made the peasant bread as well, which as usual was a hit. Am now attempting the prosciutto and gruyere croissants. Happy Christmastime!

    • says

      So happy to hear this, Jessica! I happen to have a ton of smoked gouda on hand — I wonder how that might work? — and a ton of potatoes from my CSA. I’m going to try your variation soon. Happy New Year!

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