Published November 14, 2012 - Last Updated January 22, 2021
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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Thanks for stopping by! I am fascinated by the story behind the food – why we eat what we eat, how the foods of different cultures have evolved, and how yesterday’s food can inspire us in the kitchen today. Read more...