Thursday, December 26, 2013

No Fail Scalloped Potatoes

A new technique, updated oven temperature and revised cooking time makes scalloped potatoes easy. A cheesy topping makes them company ready.  Use this no fail recipe when you want an elegant company potato side dish next to roast beef, baked ham or steaks.

Scalloped and Au Gratin Potatoes are winter classics.  The trouble is many cooks struggle to determine when the potatoes are cooked and at their most tender and no one likes to bite into a hard potato at the center of the casserole.  A thin here, lumpy, curdling there white sauce is the other issue that is taken care of with this technique. 

The trick is to ensure the potatoes cook in hot milk while the flour and butter create a creamy white sauce.  Most recipes use milk right out of the refrigerator so the casserole stays cool in the oven too long and the potatoes do not cook through.  In this recipe, you create a simple slurry with flour, salt and pepper and some of the milk that is layered in with the potato slices.  The slurry ensures a smooth and evenly distributed sauce.  The remaining milk is heated and poured over the casserole as it goes into the oven.  The hot milk starts cooking the potato slices immediately.  The result is a no fail white sauce that the potatoes bubble in from the start.

Also, very thin potato slices helps this dish presents a fabulous layered look when cut into.  If you have a slicer or mandolin, this is the perfect time to use it.  If not, be patient and slice by hand.  Keep things safe by cutting off a slice at the bottom of each potato so it remains stable on your cutting board.  You will be surprised at how quickly you can peel and hand cut 6-8 medium potatoes. 

Our Scalloped Potatoes 
6-8 servings
Cook Time: approx1 hour 30 minutes

Ingredients
4 cups thinly sliced peeled potatoes, about 6 to 8 medium Eastern potatoes
2 tablespoons flour or potato starch
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons butter plus extra to butter backing dish
2 cups whole milk* separated into 1/2 cup; heat remaining 1 1/2 cups
1/2 cup shredded Cheddar or Gruyere cheese

*Whole milk works best but you can use 1% milk.  Up to 1/4 cup cream can replace whole milk for an extra rich dish. 

Method
  1. Preheat oven to 400˚F.  Generously butter a 2-quart baking dish.
  2. Whisk together flour (or potato starch),  salt, pepper and 1/2 cup milk. 
  3. Place a layer of the potatoes in the bottom of baking dish.   
  4. Pour a small amount (1-2 tablespoons) of the flour-milk slurry onto the sliced potatoes and dot  with about 1/2 tablespoon butter.  
  5. Repeat with remaining layers—potatoes sliced on a mandolin will be very thin and you will have 5-6 layers.  Potatoes sliced by hand will give you 4-5 layers. 
  6. Dot top of casserole with the last of the butter.
  7. Heat remaining 1 1/2 cups milk and pour over potatoes. Use a spoon or fork to shift potatoes slightly so that hot milk flows down into casserole. 
  8. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and place on on a rack at the center of the oven. Place a cookie sheet or large baking pan on the rack beneath to catch any milk. 
  9. Bake at 400° for 45-60 minutes.
  10. Uncover and check center potato slices with a knife.  Potatoes should be almost tender, yielding to the knife.  (If potatoes are still hard, recover and continue to bake another 10-15 minutes before moving to final step.  Thicker, hand cut potatoes may take a little extra time.)
  11. When potatoes are tender, sprinkle cheese over the top. Return to the oven and bake, uncovered, for an additional 15 minutes until cheese has melted and begins to bubble.  
 Allow casserole to rest 10 minutes before cutting in wedges to serve.

Leftovers! Make this dish for a small group and enjoy leftovers that you can slice and reheat like wedges of pie.  Reheat for about 15 minutes in a low oven, 325˚F, uncovered to get a crispy crust  around the edges.  Reheat on low power in the microwave if you prefer a non-crispy crust.