You know you've got yourself a party when the scalloped potatoes show up at the table. With its layers of cream and potatoes, and then more cream and more potatoes, all baked until bubbly — well, I would be hard-pressed to think of another dish that pairs comfort and elegance quite so perfectly. Here's how to make this classic dish for your next dinner party.
Scalloped Potatoes and Gratins
Think scalloped potatoes and gratins are one and the same? Not so fast, my friend! Both are made with thinly sliced potatoes cooked in cream, but they have one small, but significant, difference: cheese. Classic scalloped potatoes are made with just cream and potatoes, while gratins add cheese between those layers and over top.
These two dishes have gotten pretty scrambled together over the years (because who doesn't love cheese with their creamy potatoes?), but today we're focusing on the classic scalloped potato dish. Don't worry — if you want to add cheese to your version, that's totally fine by us.
Use Starchy Potatoes
You want starchy potatoes for this dish — it's that starch that helps the cream thicken up into a velvety sauce during cooking. Go for Russet potatoes or Yukon Golds. Russets have the most starch and make the creamiest sauce, but Yukons tend to hold their shape a little better (although your sauce will be slightly more milky).
Cut the potatoes to between 1/8- and 1/4-inch-thick. A mandoline makes this very quick and easy, but you can also do this with a sharp chef's knife. Just make sure your slices are all roughly the same size so they cook at the same rate.
Get a Jump-Start on Cooking
I like to simmer the sliced potatoes in the cream for a few minutes before layering everything in the dish. This gets all the ingredients warmed up to the same temperature, which cuts down on the total cooking time. You're not actually cooking the potatoes through at this point; once your cream starts to simmer, you're ready to go.
The potatoes won't all be submerged in the cream, so gently move them around with tongs during this step so they warm evenly.
Scalloped Potatoes at the Table
This dish is more about potatoes cooked in cream rather than a firmly set casserole, so the sauce might still be fairly loose and liquidy even once the dish is bubbling and the potatoes are tender. This is all fine — nothing about potatoes cooked in cream is really a bad thing, in my opinion.
Use a slotted spoon or a fish spatula to serve so that you can lift the stacked layers and serve the potatoes in squares or wedges. Scoop out some of that creamy sauce left in the pan and drizzle it over the top. Leftovers are very good reheated.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease the baking dish with butter or nonstick spray. Peel the potatoes and remove any blemishes.
How To Make Scalloped Potatoes
Serves 6 to 8 as a side
What You Need
2 cups cream, whole milk, or a mix
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 pounds Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, optional
2-quart baking dish, like an 8x8-inch square dish
Preheat the oven to 375°F: Grease the baking dish with butter or nonstick spray.
Peel and slice the potatoes: Peel the potatoes and remove any blemishes. Thinly slice them into rounds roughly 1/4-inch thick.
Warm the cream and potatoes on the stovetop: Combine the milk or cream, potatoes, bay leaf, and salt in a medium saucepan. (The milk won't cover the potatoes; this is correct.) Place over medium heat. Gently lift and stir the potatoes a few times to make sure all the potatoes get a turn in the warming cream. Warm just until the cream starts to bubble, 10 minutes or so. Pay close attention as the cream heats; it can bubble up quite quickly once it's warm.
Layer the potatoes in the baking dish: Use a slotted spoon to lift the potatoes from the cream mixture and transfer them to the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle thyme, salt, and pepper over the potatoes as you go, if using. When done, make sure the potatoes form an even layer.
Pour the cream or milk over top. Remove the bay leaf from the cream. Pour the cream over the potatoes, stopping just below the top layer of potatoes. Depending on the size of your dish, you may have a little cream left over.
Bake for 50 to 60 minutes: Rotate the pan once during baking so the dish cooks evenly. When done, the dish should no longer jiggle when moved, the potatoes will be easily pierced with a knife all the way to the bottom, and the top will be browned.
Cool briefly: Place the potatoes on a cooling rack and cool at least 10 minutes. This gives the casserole time to finish setting, which will make it easier to slice and serve.
Serve the potatoes: The potatoes can be served immediately or kept in a warm oven for half an hour. Serve with a little of the creamy sauce left in the pan drizzled over top of each serving, if desired.
Potatoes gratin: Add 1 1/2 cups grated cheese to the recipe; sprinkle 1 cup of cheese between the layers of potatoes and sprinkle the top with the remaining 1/2 cup.
Scalloped potatoes for a crowd: You can use 4 pounds of potatoes and cook them in a 9x13-inch baking dish. Add just enough cream to come to just under the top layers of potatoes (roughly 4 cups)
(Image credits: Quentin Bacon)