Perfect Bottom to Potatoes au Gratin

Potatoes au GratinOne of my favorite recipes is Potatoes au Gratin. And it is popular among everyone I know. I get a lot of requests. I assume that’s because it is so simple. It’s just potatoes, onions, and cheese. Nothing complicated — just pure gooey goodness. But there has always been a problem that I will get to in a moment.

My Potatoes au Gratin also has the advantage of being really easy to make. And with my extremely busy life (that involves sitting in front of a computer screen), I find I just don’t enjoy working a long time in the kitchen. I’m filled with anxiety, thinking I really should be doing something pointless, but lucrative.

Potatoes au Gratin Recipe

In a baking dish:

  1. Place a layer of sliced potatoes.
  2. Place a layer of sliced onions.
  3. Sprinkle a layer of grated mild cheddar cheese.
  4. Repeat steps 1 – 3 until the baking dish is full.

There is an ontological issue with this recipe: what comes first, the potatoes or the cheese?[1] If you start with the potatoes, they stick on the bottom of the dish, not only wasting them but creating a nightmare for cleanup. If you start with the cheese, you end up with a solid layer of burned cheese that must be cut with a sharp knife to serve.

Now, if it were up to me, I’d go with the cheese on the bottom. I love that burned cheese. But others complain about it: the look, the consistency, and the bother. So I’ve come up with a solution.

The Solution

For Thanksgiving, I tried something new. It’s equivalent to starting with cheese. It does provide what tastes very much like the original cheese bottom. But it’s much more manageable.

Take a few potato slices and dice them up so that each piece is about an eighth of an inch square. (How many slices? About half as many as you would use for a normal layer.) Do the same thing with some onion slices. Put all of this along with about the same amount of grated cheese on the bottom. Mix it well so that the bottom is a consistent mixture of the three ingredients. Then you can complete the recipe as described above.

This works out shockingly well. Although as I describe it, I have to admit that the recipe doesn’t sound easy. Maybe it just seems easy because I don’t have to think about anything. With most recipes, you have to taste them, add spices, taste again. This is more along the line of assembling. Yes, the slicing the potatoes and onions, and grating of the cheese is all quite a lot of work. But there’s nothing to think about. Except, “Don’t cut yourself.” Of course, that’s more like a mantra.


I hope that you noticed my use of assonance in the title. If you didn’t, I want you to take a moment and appreciate it, now!

[1] Starting with the onions is either like starting with the potatoes or the cheese, depending upon how thick your onion layers are. For me, it is the same as the potatoes.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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