Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/4 cup flour
- 2-3 cups whole milk
- 1/4 c. aged cheddar (3yr+), shredded
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Dash of nutmeg
- 320g (~3 cups) old cheddar, shredded
- 1 medium shallot, sliced
- 10-14 small-medium yellow potatoes
DirectionsMelt butter in pot over medium heat and brown. Add flour and stir until nutty smelling. Whisk in milk, ~1/2 cup at a time until sauce forms. Cook until sauce starts to simmer and thickens slightly, adding salt and pepper to taste and dash of nutmeg. Remove from heat and stir in aged cheddar until melted into sauce. Slice potatoes and shallots. Layer in 8″X11″ oven-ready pan: sauce, potatoes, sauce, shredded cheese, shallots, potatoes, sauce, shredded cheese, shallots, potatoes, sauce, shredded cheese. Bake in oven at 177ºC/350ºF for 40-50 minutes until the cheese is browned and the potatoes are cooked through. Serve.
And now for the details…
Scalloped potatoes are, in my mind, one of the quintessential comfort foods. There is something about digging into a mass of hot, cheesy, creamy, perfectly cooked potatoey goodness that has a hard time being beat by any other comfort food.
I’ve encountered a number of different recipes for these over the years. Some call for just sprinkling flour between the layers of potatoes, then pouring milk over top. Some call for a béchamel sauce, but no cheese. Some call for cheese, but no kinds of white sauce at all. After some trial and error to find my preference, I am inclined to all the things. Béchamel with some added cheese (would I truly be able to call it a Mornay if I’m not adding gruyère?), then more cheese on its own, and a thin layer of shallots to add additional flavour. And lo! This recipe was born.
Let’s get to cooking.
We are going to start with our sauce. Melt the butter in a pot at medium to medium-high heat. Continue to cook until the butter has just browned, then add you flour. Reduce the heat to medium. Mix the two together well (I find that a whisk is particularly good at this task) and continue to stir over the heat for another several minutes. We are cooking the flour to remove the “raw” taste of the flour, but at the same time, we do not want to cook it too long, as toasted flour starts to lose its ability to thicken the toastier is gets. It’s one of the reasons we browned the butter first, to get that very nutty and toasted flavour, but not needing to compromise the thickening super power of the flour (the Power of Flour! A potential new comic book or graphic novel? Maybe if I could draw…)
Once we have cooked the flour, we are going to whisk the milk in about 1/2 cup at a time. We’re not adding it all at once, since that would like result in lumpy sauce, but you will also need to whisk constantly as you add, since this will thicken up FAST as you add the milk. I’ve given a pretty big range of milk to add here. A lot will depend on where you are, to be honest. Elevation seems to make a huge difference. Since moving to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and finding myself over 1000m (3280ft) above sea level, I have needed to add more more liquid to my recipes than I did when at the near-sea level of the Canadian Prairies. Add your milk until the sauce has reached the thickness of syrup (think pancake or maple syrup). Next, we are going to bring the sauce to a simmer, stirring regularly, and cooking it until it thickens. When is thick enough? Stick a wooden spoon in the sauce. If the sauce does not coat the spoon, you’re not done yet. If it does coat the spoon, run your finger down the middle of the spoon. If a line forms without the sauce running back into where you drew your line, your sauce is done. While the sauce is cooking, you can season it with salt and pepper to taste, and I also like to add a tiny dash of nutmeg.
As soon as you remove the sauce from the heat, add the shredded aged cheddar, and stir it into the sauce to melt. It may not seem like much cheese, but since we are adding even more cheese later, and using the aged (i.e. super flavourful) cheddar here, a little will go a fairly long way.
Next we start assembly. The shallots can be sliced right away and set to the side. I would recommend slicing the potatoes as you go for a couple reasons. One being that potatoes like to start turning brown fairly quickly after they have been cut. But also because it’s hard to estimate how many potatoes will be enough. Cutting as you go will allow you to stop at just the right point and avoid needing to try and cram a bunch of taters in at the last row, or worse, needing to throw them out.
We start the assembly with a thin spread of the sauce on the bottom of our 8″x11″ baking dish. The thin spread of sauce will avoid the potatoes from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Because let’s be honest, between the sauce and the cheese we are adding here, there is enough fat that greasing the pan is completely unnecessary.
Next we place a layer of the potatoes. Lay them out so they overlap, and try to avoid leaving too many gaps. The layer after the potatoes will be more sauce, a little more generous than what was on the base, about a third of the sauce you have left. Spread the sauce as evenly as you can across the potatoes, and then lay a thin layer of the shallots, using about half of the shallots you have cut.
And then? NO AND THEN! Just kidding. And then: CHEESE!!! Spread out just enough cheese to evenly cover the layer. We want to keep the bulk of the cheese for the last layer.
We are going to rinse and repeat and the layers from here: potatoes, sauce, shallots, cheese, potatoes, sauce… and we use the bulk of the cheese for this top layer, really laying it on thick. This is what will form that gooey crust at the top of our potatoes. Y’know… the part that people “accidentally” scoop too much of when they are serving themselves, and “don’t realize” they left the rest of the potatoes underneath?
We are baking this monster at 177ºC/350ºF for 40-50 minutes. Our end goal: a bubbling dish of cheesy potatoes that are cooked through and a slightly browned crust on top. If you find your cheese is browning too much, cover the dish with tin foil while it cooks.
When its done, let it cool for about 5 minutes, then scoop in and serve.