DWFull-ScallopedPotatoes2

If it’s ham, there must be scalloped potatoes.  At least that’s the way that I grew up.  The scalloped potatoes consisted of thin slices slipping around in a cheesy white sauce.  That’s the way they always were and they were scrumptious.  

Then we saw a photo, a neat wedge of scalloped potatoes, that was very attractive. The cuts were clean and the filling firm. It looked like a slice of pie, not a casserole.  These were not the out-West potatoes that we knew. 

How did they do that?  We started on a quest for nice, neat scalloped and au grain potatoes. Today we’ll tell you what we discovered and give you recipes for these great potato casseroles.

Three Ways to Make a Potato Casserole

We wanted to know everything we could about making scalloped and au gratin potato casseroles.  We read what we could in our text books and began studying recipes.  Then we stopped by our local potato warehouse for a 50 pound box of Russet potatoes.  (Yes, in Eastern Idaho, we have potato warehouses scattered about like convenience stores.  Most will sell to consumers.  We paid $12 for a box of premium, extra-large bakers.)

As we coursed the recipes in our cook books and text books, we found that potato casseroles can be categorized by their structure: those that are made with eggs, those made with a white sauce including flour, and those that rely on the starch from the potatoes for structure. We experimented with all three types.

As we reviewed these recipes, we found that many of them called for partially cooking the potato slices before baking.  We used that as a starting point.  We made several casseroles by boiling the potato slices until they were crisp tender and assembling them in baking dishes.  We were disappointed.  The casseroles turned out with over-cooked, mushy potatoes.  They tasted bland and the casseroles were watery.  We concluded that the boiling bleached out much of the potato flavor and absorbed tons of water that diluted the casseroles. 

So we made casseroles without partially cooking the potatoes.  We found that if we sliced the potatoes thinly–about 1/8-inch or a little thicker–they would cook evenly without par-cooking.   Now that we knew how to cook the potatoes, we started experimenting with our three types of recipes.  All three were successful.

The egg based casseroles cooked into a firm casserole but moist.  From that casserole, we could cut neat, formal-looking wedges or squares.  This would be our choice for a formal party. 

Both the white sauce and cream based casseroles worked well too.  We expected the cream based ones to be overly runny but they weren’t.   The advantage to the white sauce type is that you don’t need to be as careful in the cooking; the white sauce is less likely to curdle than cooked milk or cream.

Choose to make whatever type you desire. At the end of this section, you will find a prototype recipe for each potato casserole. We have also included optional ingredients to add like garlic, onion, bacon, and ham so that you can customize your recipe.

Tips for Success

  • Use quality, russet potatoes
  • Use a mandoline or other cutting device to assure that the slices are of uniform thickness.
  • Cut the slices not thicker than 3/16 inch.
  • Do not boil your potatoes before making the casserole.

What You’ll Need

DWFull-Mandoline

It’s important that you slice the potatoes uniformly.  If you don’t, your casserole won’t cook evenly: the thin slices will be mushy while the thick slices are still hard.  The only way to cut the slices evenly is with a mechanical slicer.  Our slicer of choice is a mandoline. 

We use our deluxe mandoline  in our test kitchen. We wanted to make certain that a less expensive mandoline would work and used it for this project. For slicing potatoes, it worked as well as the one that costs three times as much.  It’s not as versatile nor as heavy duty but it works.  (See the less expensive mandolines.)

Au Gratin Potatoes (with Eggs)

DWFull-ScallopedPotatoes3

This recipe relies on the eggs to form the filling.  The egg and milk and cream mixture sets up as a custard.  The casserole cuts neatly into squares or wedges for serving.

It is important that you use starchy, Russet-type potatoes.  This can be made without the cheese for scalloped potatoes. 

 This is a basic recipe.  Other ingredients may be added as desired though this is a good dish in its basic form.  You may add any of the following ingredients:

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1 small can diced green chilies
  •  1/2 pound bacon, crisply cooked and snipped into pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups ham cut into small cubes

Basic recipe

7 to 8 cups of sliced potatoes, 1/8-inch thick
about 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
about 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
pinch nutmeg
2 to 2 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
2 cups milk
1 cup cream
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup grated cheese

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.

  1. Peel and slice the potatoes to 1/8-inch thick.  Use a mandolin or other cutting tool so that the potatoes are of uniform thickness.  
  2. Place a layer of potatoes in the pan.  Season with salt and pepper and a very small amount of nutmeg.  Sprinkle with a portion of the grated cheese.   Repeat with additional layers until the potatoes and this portion of the cheese is used.
  3. Place the milk in a saucepan and heat to a simmer. 
  4. Whisk the egg yolks and cream together.  Slowly pour the egg mixture into the hot milk while stirring with a whisk.
  5. Pour the milk and egg mixture over the layered potatoes. 
  6. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup cheese over the casserole.
  7. Bake for 50 minutes or until the potatoes are tender but still firm when poked with a fork. 

Au Gratin Potatoes (White Sauce)

For this recipe, you make a white sauce for the filling from the flour and cream.  Once the white sauce is made, add the cheese to make a cheese sauce.  This makes a creamy casserole.  It is important that you use starchy, Russet-type potatoes. 

This can be made without the cheese for scalloped potatoes. 

This is a basic recipe.  Other ingredients may be added as desired though this is a good dish in its basic form.  You may add any of the following ingredients:

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1 small can diced green chilies
  •  1/2 pound bacon, crisply cooked and snipped into pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups ham cut into small cubes

Basic recipe

2 cups milk
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup cream
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
pinch nutmeg
2 to 2 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
7 to 8 cups of sliced potatoes, 1/8-inch thick
1/2 cup grated cheese

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.

  1. Make a white sauce with the milk and flour:  Pour the milk into a heavy saucepan.  Place the flour in a cup.  Add just enough milk to make a paste.  Gradually add more milk, stirring to thin the paste into a sauce-like consistency.

      Stir the flour and milk mixture into the milk with a whisk.  Add the cream and heat, stirring with a whisk, until the sauce is thickened and starts to bubble. 
  2. Add the salt, pepper, and nutmeg.  Add the cheese while still hot and stir in.  The cheese should melt and form a medium-thick cheese sauce.  Keep the sauce hot while you prepare the potatoes. 
  3. Peel and slice the potatoes to 1/8-inch thick.  Use a mandolin or other cutting tool so that the potatoes are of uniform thickness. 
  4. Place a layer of potatoes in the pan.  Pour a portion of the hot cheese sauce over the potato layer.   Repeat with additional layers until the potatoes and cheese sauce is used.
  5. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup cheese over the casserole.
  6. Bake for 50 minutes or until the potatoes are tender but still firm when poked with a fork. 

Baking Tip!  About Baking Dishes

We baked these casseroles in three different types of dishes: Dark metal, clear glass, and opaque decorative glass.  The type of baking dishes affects baking times.  A dark metal dish bakes fastest.  A clear glass or off-colored baking dish is next.  A light colored, opaque glass dish is the slowest. 

Baking times seemed to vary about ten minutes from one type of pan to the next.

As important as baking dishes are, the thickness of the casserole has even more impact.  A shallow casserole bakes much faster than one that fills the whole pan. 

Au Gratin Potatoes (Cream Only)

DWFull-ScallopedPotatoes1This recipe relies on the starch in the potatoes to thicken the cream to a sauce.  This makes a creamy casserole with a thin white sauce-type filling.  It is important that you use starchy, Russet-type potatoes.  It is also important that you bring the milk to a simmer only, not boiling, to avoid curdling.

This can be made without the cheese for scalloped potatoes. 

This is a basic recipe.  Other ingredients may be added as desired though this is a good dish in its basic form.  You may add any of the following ingredients:

 

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1 small can diced green chilies
  • 1/2 pound bacon, crisply cooked and snipped into pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups ham cut into small cubes

Basic recipe

7 to 8 cups of sliced potatoes, 1/8-inch thick
about 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
about 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
pinch nutmeg
2 to 2 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1 cups milk
2 cup cream
1/2 cup grated cheese

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.

  1. Peel and slice the potatoes to 1/8-inch thick.  Use a mandolin or other cutting tool so that the potatoes are of uniform thickness. 
  2. Place a layer of potatoes in the pan.  Season with salt and pepper and a very small amount of nutmeg.  Sprinkle with a portion of the grated cheese.   Repeat with additional layers until the potatoes and this portion of the cheese is used.
  3. Place the milk and cream in a saucepan and heat to a simmer.  Pour the milk and cream mixture over the layered potatoes. 
  4. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup cheese over the casserole.
  5. Bake for 50 minutes or until the potatoes are tender but still firm when poked with a fork. 

Baking Tip!  About Baking Dishes

We baked these casseroles in three different types of dishes: Dark metal, clear glass, and opaque decorative glass.  The type of baking dishes affects baking times.  A dark metal dish bakes fastest.  A clear glass or off-colored baking dish is next.  A light colored, opaque glass dish is the slowest. 

Baking times seemed to vary about ten minutes from one type of pan to the next.

As important as baking dishes are, the thickness of the casserole has even more impact.  A shallow casserole bakes much faster than one that fills the whole pan. 

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Dennis Weaver is the president of The Prepared Pantry , a full line kitchen store in Rigby, Idaho.  The Prepared Pantry sells kitchen tools, gourmet foods, and baking ingredients including hundreds of hard-to-find ingredients.

Dennis Weaver can be reached at dweaver@preparedpantry.com