Is it possible to make scalloped potatoes taste better?
Making a good pan of scalloped potatoes takes some patience, but not a lot of hands-on work. It takes a good hour and a half, plus maybe longer, to bake, and more time to rest and set up. But there’s lots to be done while playing the waiting game.
Yes, you can make them on a weeknight, if you start early enough
My mother would often make these on the weekend, but since she got home from work at 3:30 in the afternoon, she would put them together and serve this luscious, creamy dish for supper. There were never any leftovers, we all loved them.
Things to consider
The first thing to remember about making scalloped potatoes creamy is to use a starchy potato such as a russet, this is no place for a waxy red. Mom always peeled her potatoes for this dish. This is what takes the most time, so if the potatoes are newish and have a thin skin, don’t bother to peel them. I don’t. There’s also a lot of nutrition in those peelings. If the russets are older, give them a good scrub, or peel if you like. The second thing to remember is to not have your heat higher than 350 degrees F., even if it seems like the potatoes are taking a long time to cook. Resist the urge to crank it up, remember, these take time.
A mandolin makes it easier
She used her knife to cut the potatoes evenly. A mandolin is quicker and more uniform, so if you have one use it; if not, all is well, just keep them thin.
Canned milk to the rescue
Mom used canned evaporated milk or whole milk. If you want a richer sauce, use half-and-half or light cream, but cut the flour back by a bit. Use soy milk and vegan cheese if you want a dairy-free, vegan dish. The flavor will be virtually unchanged.
This is the traditional technique New England cooks used to make their scalloped potatoes: layer the potatoes and onions with the flour and butter, pour over the milk, and in the long cooking the sauce takes care of itself. The canned evaporated milk is much less likely to ‘split’ in the oven, look separated or curdled. However, if your sauce looks split when you take it out of the oven, it is probably not really curdled; after the rest it will be remarkably creamy and delightful as the butter firms back up. Remember, this is about patience.
Or, make a bechamel
Some people make a bechamel sauce (white sauce) with the butter, flour, and milk and add that extra step, but I’m making it the way mom did here, just layering up with the baking creating the sauce. Additionally, it is fun to make those layers.
You have options
You can also use half milk and half stock in this dish, it will still come out creamy. In fact, you can use all stock and skip the dairy altogether and the potatoes will be deliciously smooth. If you are getting creative here, you can infuse the stock or milk with herbs, something as simple as a bay leaf, or make a little bouquet garni of your favorite herbs to enhance potato dishes –chives, rosemary, thyme? Just tuck them in a little cheesecloth pouch and simmer the liquid for a few minutes. You know what you like.
Cheese or no cheese
We never had this with cheese when I was growing up, that would be potatoes au gratin according to my mother. However, if you like, after uncovering at the end of the baking time, add a cup or so of your favorite baking/melting cheese here, or use a vegan cheese if you avoid dairy. I like a sprinkle of freshly grated Parmesan.
Toss in a bit of this or that
While she didn’t use cheese in scalloped potatoes, she would often use the leftover bits of ham from a Sunday meal and call the whole thing dinner. Or, she would toss in some bacon. My father loved it this way.
Enter, black truffle butter
Now, one of my favorite cheats is Parmesan and truffle French fries, specifically those made at a certain restaurant we love. It’s a good flavor combination if you don’t go too far with the truffle. My twist for these scalloped potatoes is to swap out some of the butter in mom’s recipe with an ounce of black truffle butter. I buy this at a speciality store in a three-ounce container, and there’s more than enough for several dishes, so it is not nearly as extravagant as it sounds – remember, a little truffle goes a VERY long way.
The truffle in this dish, combined with some good Parmesan, make a heavenly flavor; the potatoes are even more addictive than the original if that is possible! I think Mom would agree, and maybe even Dad.
Mom’s Scalloped Potatoes with Truffle Butter and Parmesan
- 2 ½ lb. Russet potatoes, sliced about 1/8 inch thick
- 1 large onion, diced, about 1 ¼ cups
- ¼ cup flour
- 1 oz. truffle butter, diced
- 2 tbsp. unsalted butter or vegan butter, diced
- 2 cups evaporated milk, whole milk, half-and-half, or soy milk
- Salt and pepper
- A bit more butter
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, or vegan Parm
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 9″ X 13″ baking dish.
Place 1/3 of the potatoes in the bottom of the dish in a single layer. Sprinkle half the onions in an even layer, followed by half the butters and half the flour. Season with salt and pepper, and pour 1/3 of the milk over all. Repeat this step, and then add the last of the potatoes on top. Pour the last of the milk over, and season. Dot with a bit more butter, and cover tightly.
Bake for 1 ½ hours and uncover. Add a quarter cup of freshly grated Parmesan to the top if using cheese. If the potatoes are soft, uncover and bake until the top is browned, about 20 minutes. If they are not done, cover and cook an additional 20 minutes and check before adding the Parmesan.
Let sit for a half hour, then serve! You can add a few freshly minced chives to the top if you like. Nothing better.
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