Country Potato Gratin – A Steakhouse Side Dish
What I say is that, if a man really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow. – A.A. Milne
It seems as if it’s only been weeks since I was talking about welcoming summer and enjoying the season’s beautiful fresh produce. Now it’s almost over and what a strange summer it has been. If you live in the Southeast you will remember this year as one of the wettest in history and the summer that never was. When the temperatures would finally soar into the high 80’s and 90’s, the moisture from all the rain made the air unbearably steamy and moist. Then there were those days in August that felt more like fall with a brisk nip in the air and no humidity. Even the grasses stayed a brilliant emerald green this summer. Truly out of the ordinary for Georgia.
While we did get to enjoy some of the local produce and preserved some with canning, we had to stay in Atlanta for about six weeks dealing with water damage in our basement and missed some of the amazing fruits and vegetables we normally have access to in North Georgia and the mountains of Western North Carolina. Thanks to some folks in Kentucky (story to come soon), friends in Montana, and some travel, we were able to get some stunning tomatoes and other produce and fruit, that are now lovingly preserved and stored in our cellar larder and freezer. From the basic to the exotic, we have all sorts of concoctions to enjoy throughout the winter, so I guess the summer wasn’t a total loss after all.
With the official start of fall just a few weeks off and cooler temperatures headed our way soon, it’s time to reintroduce some heavier dishes that will comfort your soul, warm the cockles of your heart, and excite your taste buds; dishes that are hearty and satisfying and well, addictive. This Country Potato Gratin meets all of that criteria and we are calling it a Steakhouse Side Dish. These luscious flavors with a creamy, rich, and cheesy sauce are something you would expect to be served while dining in a fine steakhouse. The best part is that you can make this dish at home with all its wonderful savoriness.
What makes the flavors in this side dish so incredible? I combine one of our favorites, Jarlsberg cheese, with its nutty and unique flavor, along with Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Ham, which is used by many chefs for its unrivaled smoky flavor. You can find Jarlsberg cheese in many local markets and cheese shops and you can order Benton’s country ham online, or as an alternative, use a good, local smoky country ham.
With this recipe, I took what is otherwise a traditional French-style scalloped potato dish and turned it into something extraordinary and worthy of being a Steakhouse Side Dish. Adding a bit of the rendered fat from the ham makes the flavors really pop, so don’t skimp on that. It will be worth the extra lap around the block the next morning. Just trust me.
While this potato gratin is perfect with steaks, it is also great served with a roasted chicken or grilled pork chops. It’s perfect for the holidays or to serve to dinner guests because they will save you from consuming the leftovers all by yourself. See if they can figure out the secret ingredients to all of this goodness. Maybe you will share what they are and maybe you won’t. 😉
* Disclosure – This recipe was developed for Jarlsberg and I was compensated for the development, but not for this article.
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Country Potato Gratin
You will never make another potato gratin after trying this recipe. Country ham gives this potato side dish an incredibly rich and decadent flavor that is unique. The onions add a bit of texture as do the pieces of cooked country ham and the Jarlsberg cheese is the perfect compliment to all of the other flavors and the smokiness of the meat.
Be sure to use low sodium chicken broth as the country ham has plenty of salt. If you are concerned with the level of salt, you can cut the outside skin in the ham off before browning the pieces. I chopped and cooked the whole ham slice, but did not add the very fatty pieces to the casserole. I did, however, leave the pieces in the pan before adding them to the potatoes, without draining the fat, so there was a wonderful flavor added to the dish with the addition of a slight bit of rendered fat.
Benton’s country ham is available to order by mail and I can highly recommend both the country ham and Benton’s bacon. It is a favorite of chefs across the country.
For Country Potato Gratin:
6 ounces Benton’s country ham, 1/4-inch chopped (or other good country ham)
2 large russet potatoes (1 3/4 - 2 pounds), peeled and sliced 1/8-inch thick
1 cup low sodium chicken broth (Do not use regular chicken broth)
1 cup whole milk
1 bay leaf
2 cups shredded Jarlsberg cheese, divided
1/2 small onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup heavy cream
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 2-quart casserole and set aside.
Heat a medium size skillet over medium-high heat. Place the chopped country ham in the pan and brown until some of the pieces are slightly crispy and the fatty pieces begin to brown. Set the pan aside, leaving the meat in the rendered fat.
Place sliced potatoes, chicken broth, whole milk, and bay leaf in a medium saucepan. Bring the liquids to a boil and simmer for just a few minutes (3 - 5 minutes) until the potatoes start to become tender, occasionally basting the potatoes with the liquids so they do not dry out. Do not overcook or else they will become mushy. Drain most of the liquid from the saucepan, reserving some to keep the potatoes moist.
Layer half of the potatoes on the bottom of the casserole dish, covering the entire bottom. Sprinkle potatoes with about 2/3 of the cooked country ham pieces, the thinly sliced onion, and 1 cup of the shredded Jarlsberg cheese. Layer the remaining half of the potatoes evenly over the top, sprinkle the rest of the country ham over the potatoes, and finish with the remaining 1 cup of shredded cheese. Pour the heavy cream over the top of the whole casserole and press the mixture down so that it flattens slightly and moistens the ingredients.
Bake at 375 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes until mixture is bubbling and the top is nicely browned. Let sit about 10 to 15 minutes before serving.