It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving in my home without scalloped potatoes, a rich and salty casserole made with thinly sliced potatoes, cheese, and cream. Scalloped potatoes, or potatoes au gratin, have been around for centuries. The French word gratin was originally derived from another French word, the verb gratter meaning “to scrape.” In 16th century France, every bit was scraped (graté) from the pan so that no amount of food was wasted. The term “le gratin” has also been used in France to describe the “upper crust” of society. Today, the word gratin describes any number of casserole-like dishes with a broiled and browned top layer.
Cheese and breadcrumbs are often thought to be an essential component of gratin dishes. While they certainly are part of many gratin recipes, a traditional gratin dauphinois is made without cheese and breadcrumbs. The dish is made from thinly sliced potatoes and heavy cream, baked in a pan rubbed with butter and garlic– uncomplicated and divine in its simplicity. Gratin dauphinois is native to the former Dauphiné region of France; it relies on a perfect balance of a few quality ingredients to infuse the dish with flavor. I tasted this dish once on a trip to France, and it was a real treat. Today, many add cheese to the gratin dauphinois, but the original dish is all about the cream.
My Dairy-Free Saffron Scalloped Potatoes are inspired by the gratin dauphinois. I wanted to create a delicious gratin with a thick, rich sauce that could be enjoyed by people who don’t (or can’t) eat dairy. I relied on rich and creamy full-fat coconut milk for the sauce, thickened with a simple roux of flour and non-dairy butter substitute (I used Organic Earth Balance; any non-hydrogenated spread will do). If you can’t tolerate flour, I’ve offered a gluten free substitution for the roux below. Saffron helps to offset the natural sweetness of the coconut and adds a lovely golden color to the sauce. The whole thing is so creamy and reminiscent of melted cheese sauce, I’m tempted to serve it at Thanksgiving this year to see if anybody will guess it’s dairy free! Whether you’re vegan, lactose intolerant, keeping kosher or just watching your dairy intake, these potatoes will add a really special flavor to your holiday buffet.
For more on the history of the gratin, click here.
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Dairy-Free Saffron Scalloped Potatoes
- 3 1/2 lbs potatoes - Russet or Yukon Gold
- Pinch saffron threads (make sure it's a good quality saffron-- it's much more expensive, but the cheap stuff has no flavor)
- 2 tbsp hot water
- 2 tbsp non-hydrogenated butter substitute (or use butter for dairy)
- 2 1/2 tbsp flour (gluten free substitution below)
- 15 oz coconut milk (1 can)
- 1 cup almond milk (or use milk for dairy)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp finely minced garlic (or 1/4 tsp garlic powder)
- Pinch cayenne, or more to taste (adds heat)
- Paprika for garnish (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Peel the potatoes, slice them thin, and cover with cold water till ready to use—this will keep them from turning brown.Grind the saffron threads in a mortar and pestle to a powder. Add 2 tbsp of hot water to the ground saffron and let it soak for 5 minutes.
- Lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish. Drain the sliced potatoes and place half of them in a thin layer on the bottom of the dish, with each slice overlapping the next.
- In a small saucepan, melt 2 tbsp non-hydrogenated dairy free butter substitute over medium heat. Whisk in 2 ½ tbsp of flour to form a thick paste. Continue whisking for a minute or two until the mixture turns a sandy brown color.
- Slowly whisk in the coconut milk, a quarter cupful at a time, followed by the almond or soy milk.
- Whisk in the salt, garlic, cayenne, and saffron water. Heat the sauce over medium, whisking frequently, till it boils and thickens slightly. Reduce heat to low and keep warm.
- Pour half of the sauce over the layer of potatoes, using a ladle or large spoon to make sure the potatoes are evenly covered with sauce. Put the sauce back on the stovetop over low heat to keep warm.
- Make another layer with the remaining potato slices.
- Use a whisk to break up the top of the sauce. Pour the remaining sauce over the top layer of potatoes, again using a spoon or ladle to control the sauce. Make sure every potato is covered and no white areas remain.Cover the dish with foil. Place in the oven and bake covered for 60 minutes, till the potatoes are tender.
- Remove the foil and turn on your broiler. Place your baking dish 4-6 inches below the broiler. Broil the potatoes for a few minutes until the top is nicely browned.
- Sprinkle the top of the casserole lightly with paprika. Serve potatoes warm as a side dish.
Other Great Recipe Ideas
Recipe Girl: Beer Baked Scalloped Potatoes
Domestic Fits: Potato, Artichoke and Goat Cheese Gratin
Heather Christo: Au Gratin Potatoes
La Fuji Mama: Rainbow Potato Gratin
Sippity Sup: Potato, Apple and Onion Gratin