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Saturday, July 14, 2018

Gratin – Browned. Unfortunately, Browned is a Poor Translation Even if it is Correct. Gratin, Au Gratin, Gratiné, and Gratinée are Treasured Techniques and Tastes in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
 Au gratin

Our taste buds are activated by memory long before we visit a restaurant offering a favorite dish. So French diners considering memorable dishes with names that include Gratin, Au Gratin, Gratiné, or Gratinée will have their sensory buttons pushed.
Recipes with Gratin in the name have been part of French cuisine since the late 1600’s. While any dish that is browned in an oven or under a grill may be called a Gratin, even the simplest Gratin dishes will have a French chef adding cheese, breadcrumbs, cream and or butter to help it along.

Le Cuisinier  François - The French Cook,
The earliest French cookbook, written close to 1650 by 
François Pierre de La Varenne, (1618 – 1678).
Page 259 above includes a recipe with a Gratin.
Vegetable and fish dishes that are served Au Gratin are usually made with a cheese sauce that includes Parmesan and or Gruyere, or with Sauce Béchamel.  Some chefs add a light touch of mustard or possibly horseradish to accent the dish.

Gratin and Au Gratin on French Menus:
Chou-fleur au Gratin Cauliflower cheese.  The cheese will usually be Gruyere with a sprinkling of Parmesan.

Effiloché d'Aile de Raie Gratiné à l'Échalote, Pomme Duchesse – Sliced skate, the fish, served with a browned shallot sauce and duchess potatoes. The dish will, just before serving, have a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese added on top of the sauce and then be lightly browned under the grill .and immediately served. Duchess Potatoes are mashed potatoes mixed with butter, egg yolks and flavored with nutmeg and browned in the oven.  While no one is too sure after which Duchess this dish is named after the betting has high odds on Isabella the Duchess of Angoulême. Isabella, became Queen of England when she married King John (1166 – 1216).  This was the bad King John who lost most of England’s French lands; consequently, for the French, he was a good English King! This King John would also sign the Magna Carta giving up many of an English King’s privileges. (BTW Angouleme in the French culinary world has excellent restaurants and is also famous for the tasty eels that come from nearby marshes, but even more meaningful for many is Angoulême’s close proximity to the town of Cognac).
Gratin Dauphinois - Thinly sliced baked potatoes cooked with olive oil and garlic and layered with cream and milk. Some versions add onions and nearly all add grated cheese, usually, gruyere with the dish browned under the grill before saving. This dish originated in the two departments of Savoie and Isère in the Rhone-Alps and in the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur.  Dauphiné translates as a dolphin, that seagoing mammal but that will not be on the menu, neither will the dolphin fish. A dolphin was the symbol of the counts who ruled the area until they were conquered by France some 600 years ago.  Then the Kings of France adopted the title Dauphiné for their eldest sons, the first in line for the throne.  N.B. Pommes de Terre Dauphine is not a dish made Au Gratin, it is potato Croquettes mixed with choux pastry and fried.  

The flag of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur.
Gratin de Fruits Rouges A dessert dish of berries including strawberries and or cherries baked in the oven. Dessert dishes like this will be made with sweet cream or crème fraiche and will often be served with ice-cream.
Gratin de Pomme de Terre Potatoes sliced and cooked with cheese.
Gratin Savoyard - Boiled potatoes baked in butter and beef stock then sliced and interleaved with Beaufort, Gruyere, or another of the famous local cheeses and then browned. The gratin, together with a salad, maybe a lunchtime main course as part of a fixed price menu, or it may be the garnish for the main course. The dish is traditional in the region of Savoie.


The most well-known dishes with Gratinée in the name will announce one of France’s famous onion soups when topped with browned cheese.
Gratinée à l'Oignon or Soupe à l'Oignon Gratinée - Onion soup with a grilled cheese topping; the name used for the Parisian version.
Gratinée Lyonnais The classic onion soup from the city of Lyon.

Gratinée de Halles - The traditional Parisian version of onion soup; complete with a grilled cheese topping and today the classic way to serve onion soup. Les Halles was Paris's central food market, and until 1971 when it was moved out of the city a place of pilgrimage for those seeking the perfect onion soup.
Gratinée Tradition
Gratinée Tradition - Another way that a menu may announce onion soup with a traditional grilled cheese topping.

Soles au gratin et vin de Champagne.
No translation required.

While Gratin was part of many French recipes before the French revolution of 1789 it was Antonin Carême in the early 1800s who began writing down and creating,  for posterity the recipes that would become Haute Cuisine.  ( notes Gratin's English usage from 1806 as “a  light crust over a dish,” from the French gratin "crust" (16c.), from gratter "to scrape, scratch).

If you visit a French home or rent an apartment with all the kitchen equipment, there will be a platter called a “gratin."  Like many other French cooking bowls or containers, the Gratin took its name from the dishes made with it. French cooking gratins are shallow pans that vary in size from individual portions to oven-sized dishes.
Gratin dishes on sale
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Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
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