I'm not speaking in hyperbole when I say these are the best scalloped potatoes I've ever had. First, you need to know that the recipe is from my newest cookbook: The New Best Recipe from Cook's Illustrated. For Cook's Illustrated fans, that should probably say it all. When my poor old Better Homes & Gardens general cookbook finally fell apart past shoving the pages back together, I had to make a decision on what general cookbook to replace it with and I'm am so glad I chose this one. Being a little kitchen OCD, I love the way CI and their show, America's Test Kitchen, not only tests all the variations you've ever seen on every recipe but tells you all about each one and what the did and didn't like about them and why they did or didn't work. This general cookbook does exactly the same thing. So there's a whole page prior to the scalloped potato recipe talking about all the different ingredients and techniques they tested before deciding on the quintessential recipe and I have to agree with them: this is the one.
There are a few things that makes this different from the way my mother scalloped her potatoes: 1) The potato slices are parboiled to reduce cooking time and assure evenness of cooking, 2) thyme and bay leaf are added to the stove top cooking for flavor not found in many traditional recipes, and 3) the parboiliong liquid is half chicken broth to reduce the amount of fat.
All of those are excellent improvements to the standard church basement casserole dish version. The thyme and bay leaf create subtle taste that almost hypnotizes you into not being able to stay out of the casserole dish and the aroma is better than perfume, it was like distilled fall, all garlicky, thymey, and bay leafy. The neighbors were practically beating down the door. .
Weekend Herb Blogging is being hosted this week by Nandita of Saffron Trail so be sure to head over that way late this weekend to see all the lovely herbacious dishes everyone's been cooking up this week.
Editorial Note: Some of the comments to this post will reflect a story I told here that has since been deleted. It was linked to, and part of a discussion with, a couple of blogs that are no longer in existence. The theme of the discussion was that, as cooks/hosts, we have an obligation to be mindful of our guests' real medical allergies but we have no obligation to be treated as short order cooks or servants to demanding, unreasonable, or irrational guests. It's a common thing to many of us who cook often for others to have one or two people in our lives who drive us batshit crazy with their demands but it comes down to this: No one should put up with anything less than respectfulness, no matter who is doing the demanding. There's a difference between assertiveness and aggression. An aggressive guest is not being assertive and the reverse is true too: an assertive host/hostess is not being aggressive. No host should enable behavior that the guest themselves would not tolerate.
Cook's Illustrated Scalloped Potatoes with Thyme and Bay
2 Tbsp butter
1 medium onion, minced
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves, minced
1 1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 1/2 lbs (about 5 med) russet potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8" thick
1 cup low sodium chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream
2 bay leaves
4 oz cheddar cheese, shredded
A couple of cook's notes: When I made the recipe, I used 1% milk instead of cream because, I didn't have cream, I was too lazy to go to the store, and we didn't need the calories. It worked fine and still tasted very rich and holiday indulgent. Also, I used slices of Havarti cheese instead of cheddar because, again, it's what I had, it needed to be used, and hey, it was delicious! Plus, my husband doesn't really like cheese so anything orange in a casserole dish is a dead give away for cheese to him but over the years I've found that he likes white cheese in recipes just fine because, like a kid, he doesn't know it's there. The Havarti was fantastic. Give it a try.
1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 425 degrees.
2. Melt the butter in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When the foaming subsides, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the potatoes, broth, cream, and bay leaves and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer until the potatoes are almost tender (a paring knife can be slipped into and out of a potato slice with some resistance), about 10 minutes. Dscard the bay leaves.
3. Transfer the mixture to an 8-inch square baking dish (or other 1 1/2 quart gratin dish). Sprinkle evenly with the cheese. Bake until the cream is bubbling around the edges and the top is golden brown, about 15 minutes. Cool 10 minutes before serving.