By tonight, I will have served up 24 trays of dauphinoise potatoes in the last week. My mandoline has never seen so much action. The Sainsbury’s delivery man raised his eyebrows back into his head when he saw I’d ordered 16 tubs of double cream and about 20kg of Maris Pipers. “Doing some cooking then, are you?”
Er, yes, yes I am. For 80 people, to be precise. In hindsight, taking on two big catering jobs within a week of each other may have been foolish, but I like a challenge, particularly one that involves serving up trays and trays of bubbling, creamy potatoes.
You’d think I’d be sick of dauph by now, but somehow, even after all that slicing, I could still eat a plate of it tonight. I think dauphinoise might be my desert island potato. It’s something about what happens to the garlic when it’s simmered in all that cream – it loses any harshness and becomes beautifully sweet.
I like plenty of freshly grated nutmeg in mine, and a couple of bay leaves torn from the sturdy little tree outside the kitchen door. It’s quite a meditative thing to make if you give yourself enough time, buttering a dish, gently simmering the cream, then layering the slices of potato.
It’s the perfect winter side dish (at last week’s do, I served it alongside slow roasted lamb shoulder; tonight it’ll accompany sticky beef shin) but with a bit of added cheese for extra heft, I think it makes a glorious main. You could add any hard cheese you have knocking around. I’ve just kept it simple with a little pre-grated Parmesan as it’s what I had in. Have it with a good salad of bitter leaves, with plenty of mustard and perhaps some cider vinegar in the dressing.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour 10 minutes
3 as a main, 5 as a side
500ml double cream
50g unsalted butter, plus a little extra for greasing
A bay leaf
About ⅓ of a nutmeg, freshly grated
3 garlic cloves, bashed and peeled
5 large potatoes (I used Maris Pipers)
50g grated Parmesan
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 5.
First get the cream on. Pour it into a saucepan and add the butter, a bay leaf (which you should tear half way down the stalk to release more flavour), grated nutmeg, the garlic cloves and a big pinch of salt. Bring just to a simmer over a low heat, then turn the heat off and leave it to sit while you sort out the potatoes.
Peel the potatoes and then use a mandoline to slice them. If you don’t have one just use a very sharp knife, taking care to get the slices as thin as you can.
Butter the tin you’re using.
Lay the first layer of potatoes in the base of the tin. Sprinkle over a little parmesan, then lay your next layer. Keep going like this until you have no potatoes left. Leave the top layer cheese-free. You’ll want a bit of leftover cheese for the topping.
Pour the cream over the potatoes. It’ll look like a lot but it’ll shake down. You want plenty of liquid. Let the garlic cloves sit on top – they’ll taste amazing when the dauphinois have finished baking. Remove the bay leaf.
Put a square of baking paper on top of the dish, then cover with foil. (The paper just stops the top layer sticking to the foil). Cook for an hour, or until the potatoes feel perfectly soft when you stick a knife through them.
Take the foil and paper off. Turn the heat up to 200C/gas 6. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and put back in the oven for about 6 minutes, or until bubbling and golden on top.
Leave to sit out of the oven for a few minutes before serving so it has a chance to firm up slightly.