Skillet Potato Gratin

Meat and potatoes. Sometimes it's the simple things in life that offer the most pleasure. I've spent countless hours perfecting dishes, experimenting with recipes, playing with flavors, but you know what? Sometimes, when I've got all day to make dinner, my husband says, "Lamb tagine sounds nice, but can't you just make steak and potatoes tonight?"

So I sigh, shrug my shoulders, pull out the manliest steak I can find, and make this skillet potato gratin to serve alongside.

Oh yeah, I'm talking about you, Mr. Porterhouse.

See, my husband doesn't get it. Can I make a baked potato? Yes, of course. It's easy and delicious, but I enjoy cooking. I need to cook. There is something therapeutic to me about the rhythmic work of slicing and preparing. Smelling onions fry or fresh herbs in my hands, this makes me happy. 

Not that this recipe is hard. It's actually pretty easy. But it's just the right amount of effort that allows me to zone out, relax, and just enjoy cooking. Oh yeah, and its damn delicious too.

Skillet Potato Gratin
I like to use a mandolin to slice my onions and potatoes. This keeps the slices very thin and uniform which gives you great texture but a lovely appearance as well.

2 tblsp butter
1 small onion (finely sliced)
2 large russet potatoes (thinly sliced - do not rinse, the starch helps everything stick together)
1 cup milk
1 cup shredded cheese (I used cheddar today, but gruyere is awesome too, you can use whatever you've got, anything that melts well)
1 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary or thyme
salt/pepper to taste
grated romano or parmesan cheese (optional)

Preheat your oven to 375 F.

Start by placing the butter in your skillet and melting it down over medium heat. Keep a thin coating in the pan but reserve the remaining melted butter in a small bowl for later. Add your thinly sliced onions and turn the heat up to medium high. You want them softened and just browned, it should only take a few minutes. Once they are done, put them in a side plate to cool. You also want your herbs, shredded cheese and milk out and measured, because the next step is where you start building your layers.

Browned onions, ready for layering.
On the bottom of your pan, add just a tsp of the melted butter and swirl it around. Start placing your potato slices in an even layer in the bottom. Once you've got the bottom layer of potatoes down, season with salt and pepper, sprinkle a third of the cheese and onions down with a pinch of the herbs. Drizzle about a tblsp of milk over the layer, then get ready for more potatoes. I like 4 layers of potatoes with three internal layers of cheese/onions/herbs/milk. When you put down your last layer of potatoes, pour the remaining milk over the top, sprinkle with herbs, drizzle over the remaining melted butter, and top with a very thin scattering of grated parmesan or romano cheese.

First layer of potatoes, cheese, onions, herbs, drizzle of milk...
Bake in the 375 F oven for 40 minutes, until the potatoes are tender, then put the skillet under the broiler to get the top as brown and crispy as you'd like.

Once it is done, it is best to wait 15 minutes for it to cool and settle before you serve. I used a cast iron skillet for the recipe today, but if you make this in a non-stick pan, you can slide the entire thing onto a serving dish for beautiful presentation, just slice it into wedges and let people ooh and ah. It's the perfect combination of crispy and tender, with cheese and flavor but not swimming in sauce. Makes an elegant side dish that can be made in individual ramekins too.

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