Creamy, rich scalloped potatoes are truly simple to make: Thinly slice potatoes, infuse milk and cream with seasonings (like garlic, nutmeg, and fresh herbs), then bake the spuds in the cream mixture until tender and browned on top. (A gratin, on the other hand, has a top crust of breadcrumbs and butter or cheese.) Not only is it easy to make, but it goes with almost anything, from a weeknight roast chicken to a Sunday roast beef. Here are the secrets to making this indulgent cold-weather comfort food.
What’s in a name
The term “to scallop” dates back to the 1400s and refers to layering a thinly sliced main ingredient (often a vegetable) with cream or a creamy sauce and baking until tender.
Tips for Mastering Scalloped Potatoes
Choose the right potato Use buttery, waxy Yukon Golds; they release just the right amount of starch for a creamy sauce and hold their shape for great texture. (Floury potatoes, like russets, will leak too much starch and give you thick and sometimes gloppy results.)
Stay thin Slice the potatoes very thinly (about 1/8 inch thick) and uniformly so they cook evenly. This is a great time to break out your mandoline (see below), or use a very sharp chef’s knife.
Infuse Steep cream and milk with fresh thyme, garlic, and nutmeg to add lots of extra flavor to the finished dish.
Cover up Keep the potatoes covered during most of the cooking process to seal in steam, which helps promote even cooking. When they’re tender, uncover and broil the potatoes for a browned crust.
Let them rest Once the potatoes come out of the oven, give them 5 to 10 minutes to cool and reabsorb the cream mixture before serving. This results in creamy—not soupy—scalloped potatoes.
Infuse the cream with herbs and spices for extra flavor.
A mandoline gives you perfectly uniform slices, so the potatoes all cook at the same rate.