Au Gratin – It’s all about the topping

It’s funny, for as long as I can remember I have thought that a Gratin was all about the layering of the contents, and it wasn’t until recently that I learnt that it’s actually all about the topping.

Gratin is french and essentially means to grate or gratings, and to cook something Au Gratin means to cook a dish with a browned crust of cheese, butter or cream and bread crumbs on top.  I guess if I had have continued with my french classes this wouldn’t have been such a big surprise!  (Joe, if you are reading this right now, I’m assuming that you are shaking your head in disgust and thinking “… and she calls herself a cook”)

So it’s around about that time when I’m thinking, what to make for dinner?  WHAT to make for dinner?  I’m all about using what’s in season and since I had some cabbage and bacon in the fridge, and some spuds that were looking like they had seen better days, a gratin was the perfect way to use all this up.

Most modern gratins involve making a Béchamel sauce, but don’t sweat it, if you can’t be bothered doing that, you can go the classic french way and just add some warm cream and milk, and this will thicken up as the gratin cooks.

Gratins can be made up of almost anything, fish, chicken, vegetables, the list goes on, have a hunt around on the web there are some great recipes out there.

To layer or not to layer?  Well it doesn’t really matter – it doesn’t make any difference to the cooking of the dish, remember, the gratin is all about the topping.  Ask yourself how you want it to look, as with everything, we eat with our eyes, what are you serving it with and how will it be plated?  It can be as simple as thinking about what effect that you want and how much time you have.  Go crazy, just chuck it all in and go for the rustic look, or if you have time and you want it to look elegant (you can even slice it, or cut it out in molds) layer it beautifully.

Gratin is great on its own, depending on what you put in it or as a side-dish.  So there you have it, here is what I did.  I sliced my potatoes with a mandolin, but you can do yours however you like, with a knife in slices or chunks it’s up to you.

Here was my effort



3 Comments Add yours

  1. Joe Worsley says:

    Actually I was thinking “Lee, you really ought to check your translation”. Gratiner has nothing to do with grating. It means to brown, so au gratin means simply “with a browned topping”.

    1. Yes Joe, as always, happy to be corrected by you 😛 This is what I have found, so I guess I was using the wrong definition 🙂

      In essence, that’s kinda what I was getting at.

      gra·tin (grätn, grtn, gr-t)
      A top crust consisting of browned crumbs and butter, often with grated cheese.
      [French, from obsolete grater, to scratch, scrape, from Old French; see grate1.]

      1. Joe Worsley says:

        I hate to admit it, but I was slightly wrong 🙂 The ultimate derivation is, indeed, from old french grater “to scratch”. But (thankfully for me, unfortunately for culinary terms) au gratin does not mean grated. The etymology is:

        16th century word gratin means “scrapings (burnt stuff in the pan you remove by scratching)”. 19th century verb gratiner “to grill” (I guess from the idea of burning stuff in a pan lol) as well as au gratin as a culinary term for a browned topping.

        So what you’re really cooking is a dish “with scrapings”. Yum!

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