Monday, June 02, 2008

SPECIAL EDITION: Gratin Dauphinois (Page 572): REMAKE!

  • Date: Sunday, June 1, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Ana, Jenny, Kenny, and Angelica
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I know what you're thinking: a remake??? WHAT??? Almost 750 recipes into this project, I have never remade one and reposted about it. So what could have possibly possessed me to do such a thing? Well I'll tell ya:

So last week, the day my blog appeared in the Wall Street Journal, a number of people emailed me or posted comments, mainly with various forms of encouragement. So there I was, sitting in front of my computer when my new email dinging noise went off and in my Inbox there was a new comment from my blog. No big deal. Deep in thought about something else, it took me a minute of staring at it to process the following line of information: From: Ruth Reichl, Subject: [The Gourmet Project] New comment on Gratin Dauphinois (Page 572). This was not just a new comment, this was a comment from RUTH REICHL. Most of you will need no explanation for who that is, but for my non-foodie friends out there, let me offer you this -- on the spine of The Book, it reads: The Gourmet Cookbook - Ruth Reichl. Not only did she edit The Book, but she is also the editor-in-chief of Gourmet Magazine, the author of three fabulous memoirs (which I highly recommend!), and an all around culinary goddess. I have admired her for years. I saw her speak my first year in graduate school, which only cemented my admiration. She commented on my blog! I was so excited. Except... she wasn't very happy with me.

Here's my original post about Gratin Dauphinois, where you can see her comment and my response. You can also read my not-so-charitable review of this recipe the first time I made it. The fact that I had such a miserable experience with a recipe that Ruth Reichl likes so much did seem a little suspect to me -- perhaps I had made a mistake!

So last night, in the company of friends, I remade this recipe. And I will happily admit: I was wrong. There is no way that these potatoes deserved the D I gave them the first time around. I don't know what went wrong that first time. My best guess is that the dish I used wasn't shallow enough. It had the right capacity, but perhaps the potatoes were stacked too deep, and covered with a thick layer of cheese, which didn't allow enough moisture to evaporate. I don't know. I think the only thing I did differently this time around was cooking them in a pan with a larger surface area. And they came out very nice! Perhaps it is more than that -- maybe I made a measuring error the first time. I have no idea. But in any event, I will officially retract my previous grade and review, and offer this instead:

These potatoes were quite tasty. The melted gruyere on top was (obviously!) delicious, and brought a nice crispy textural contrast to the tender potatoes. The one comment that several people made was that the creaminess around the potatoes was a little bland. The dish might have been improved by having a bit of cheese throughout rather than just the layer on top. Even a bit more salt would have helped. There are so many delicious things in the genre of potatoes + fat -- this one wasn't my absolute favorite, but I did have three helpings at dinner last night, and another two for lunch today! It was very tasty, and if you are looking for creamy, potatoey, comfort food, you are sure to like it!

This recipe isn't online.


Eileen said...

Most of the time if I make a recipe and it turns out bad, I won't make it again. But after reading this post, I started to think maybe I should give these "bad" recipe another chance? Maybe it was me who did something wrong?

These potatoes look delicious. Yum!

Magdalen said...

Okay, this raises all sorts of questions. As we don't believe that Ruth Reichl was been reading your blog since April (let alone since the beginning), did she read a random sampling of posts from the past couple of months and just hit on the gratin Dauphinois one and think, "Hmmm, that's odd -- I don't have that result when I make this recipe?" Or did she use your handy index, scroll down until she found a bad grade ("Okay, so that's Eggless Aioli -- well, yeah, I can see that one getting a lousy grade . . . Wait, she gave the Gratin Dauphinois a D? What was she thinking?!") and then comment negatively on that.

So yeah, it's really cool that Ruth Reichl knows you exist, but I think it's kind of uncool on her part to cherry pick among your posts to find something to kvetch about. Like, would it have killed her to have said, "Hey, nice work, Teena -- I appreciate the effort, the dedication, the fact that I've earned royalties SOLELY BECAUSE OF THIS BLOG," etc., etc.?

Because, I'm telling you all -- I only bought The Book because of this blog. So, loosen up, Ruth, and see the good side, okay?

Bob said...

This is a perfect example of how a chef's technique doesn't quite work out in a recipe. In Provence I made this everyday in the Hotel Le Relais sans fromage.

Butter a shallow casserole, heavily, and scatter smashed garlic cloves over the bottom.

Slice peeled potatoes, the older the better (not baking potatoes)VERY THIN, preferably using a mandoline or a 2mm blade in a food processor directly into the casserole. Spread the potatoes as evenly as possible.

In a mixing bowl pour heavy cream, about 2 - 3 cups (depending on the size of the casserole) and mix in fresh grated nutmeg and kosher salt ---until the cream TASTES salty.

Pour some the cream mixture over the potatoes and then press down with your hands to distribute. You have enough cream in the dish when it squishes up between your fingers when you press down hard, discard the rest of the cream. The potatoes should not be swimming and don't worry if the cream settles and doesn't come all the way to the top, the potatoes will cook down.

Scatter some bay leaves on top of the potatoes and cover the dish with foil.

Bake in a 400 degree over for 30 minutes, remove foil and let cook for another 30 - 45 minutes.

Remove from oven, and most importantly let it rest for at least 30 minutes before serving.

chef bob

Teena said...

Eileen: Yeah, it is amazing how little things (like the size of the pan!) can make a big difference in cooking!

Magdalen: I don't think her comment was ill-intentioned. I would guess that she briefly scanned the blog, was shocked to see that I gave such a poor grade to one of her favorite recipes, and wanted to offer an alternative opinion for people who might be considering making it. I don't think there is anything wrong with that!

It must be hard to read a blog where someone picks apart a book that you put a huge amount of time putting together. I certainly wouldn't want to read a blog where someone critiqued my math research!

Chef Bob: Yum! That does sound like a good technique. I will definitely have to try it out!

Ruth Reichl said...

Teena, thanks so much for giving these potatoes a second chance. It's especially nice of you given the weather. I tend to think of this as something best eaten in front of a roaring fire, and at the moment it's 95 and humid in New York.

Magdalen said...

I apologize for my heated remarks, both to you, for hosting this lovely party, and to Ms. Reichl, who has explained elsewhere that she was just defending a beloved recipe that has not failed her before, and which she got from Jacques Pepin.

But I disagree that this blog is critical of The Book. I think you are remarkably meticulous in your efforts to make a recipe precisely as it is written, which is only fair, and then grading the result. I've been reading for several months, and very few of the comments seem critical to me. Plus, so many of the discussions of specific recipes are very appreciative in a way that is fun to read.

Maybe someone else would decide not to buy a cookbook because a specific recipe wasn't great, but that seems unlikely to me. Surely cooks know that not every recipe in a cookbook will seem like a winner. Personally, I bought The Book because you raved about the Ricotta Hotcakes with Honeycomb Butter, and the recipe is not online. Yup -- one rave review did it for me. I've even made the hotcakes twice, and what my experience suggested to me is that you're a good cook (the honeycomb is tricky to get just right) and a fair grader (they were great hotcakes)!

I have to believe, Teena, that this means your blog is an excellent marketing tool for Ms. Reichl and the other people responsible for producing The Book. And anyway, isn't the (rare)criticism necessary to add verisimilitude to the compliments?