Gratin beyond spudsWhen you hear the French words au gratin (not to be confused with le gratin, the term used to signify the “upper crust” of Parisien society), what comes to mind?
By: Jeff Tiedeman, Grand Forks Herald
When you hear the French words au gratin (not to be confused with le gratin, the term used to signify the “upper crust” of Parisien society), what comes to mind?
For most people, I bet it’s a dish with potatoes and cheese.
Those were my thoughts until I boned up on the term after recently relishing a delicious serving of au gratin potatoes at the Blue Moose on the East Grand Forks boardwalk.
I couldn’t put my finger on what the seasonings were in the chunky dish, which probably had leftover baked potatoes as a base, but they sure made the cheesy creation quite tasty.
I’ve been a fan of au gratin spuds ever since my introduction to them more than 30 years ago. I can’t remember if they were the ones at Whitey’s or the late Westward Ho’s Chuckwagon Cafe. Regardless, both were superb.
During my research, I discovered that au gratin doesn’t mean with cheese or, for that matter, that cheese is even a requirement. It refers to a style of cooking where bread crumbs and butter are placed on top of a casserole of any type and browned under the broiler to give the top a nice crunch.
But many of the most popular au gratin-style casseroles do include cheese, which probably is what makes them so tasty.
And potatoes aren’t a prerequisite, either. There are all sorts of au gratin dishes that cooks could conjure up without spuds, including any type of creamy seafood dish, such as oysters au gratin (blended with a bechamel or Mornay sauce), or crabmeat au gratin, or chicken or turkey casserole au gratin.
For vegans, there are a few choices out there, too. Consider cauliflower au gratin, or avocado, artichoke hearts, string beans or asparagus au gratin. For these, instead of the traditional béchamel sauce, use a vegetarian and nondairy mushroom soup, bread crumbs brushed with olive oil or margarine and a grated tofu topping.
The au gratin style also is very conducive to leftovers. For example, use mashed potatoes, warmed slightly and then topped with bread crumbs, butter and grated cheese for a quick form of potatoes au gratin. Leftover meats or fish added to a cream sauce, warmed in the microwave and finished au gratin also works.
And what about desserts? Consider using stewed fruit in a “cobbler au gratin,” which could have a bread crumb and butter topping sweetened with a little brown sugar.
One seafood recipe that I am dying to try is called Gulf Shrimp au Gratin, (See recipe, Page D2.) It’s from Emeril Lagasse, the well-known restaurateur, chef and TV personality. Besides the unusual ingredients, it contains shallots, chives and minced garlic, three members of the allium family that can take any dish to another level.
A note of caution: Whenever preparing anything au gratin, take care when using the broiler. Broilers can easily turn something au gratin into something blackened, so make sure to follow directions for time in the broiler and also take a quick peek every minute or so to ensure you are not burning the topping.
After all, you want au gratin, not gratin brulée.
Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.