Try gratin potatoes with Irish fare

March 11, 2011 9:51:36 AM PST
In addition to corned beef and cabbage, Patrick's Day parade-goers will surely eat their share of potatoes Saturday.

ABC7's Hungry Hound has a potato alternative in mind this week.

By definition, a gratin has a top crust, usually from breadcrumbs and cheese, but beneath, rests potatoes and heavy cream.

True, it has more of a French accent than an Irish one but if you absolutely must have potatoes this weekend, why not borrow a page from the French for a little inspiration?

From a glance at the menu, Keefer's in River North appears to be yet another power lunch spot with an emphasis on steaks and seafood. But fans of John Hogan know the chef is classically trained in French cuisine, so the fact there's a hearty gratin on the menu is no surprise.

"Our gratin I think is kind of, really, kind of to me, American home-style; rustic, rough cut potatoes steamed and mixed with classic French sauce - mornay - cheese sauce."

Not to be confused with the Betty Crocker "au gratin" potatoes, Hogan first steams his Idaho russets but you could obviously boil them at home.

He cuts them into rough cubes or chunks, then begins making his bechamel sauce. At its base: melted butter and flour, along with scalded milk. This mixture cooks for about 30 minutes, just to cook out all of the flour. Then, two glorious cheeses are added: creamy gruyere and salty parmesan.

"You have your nice quality gruyere cheese, not like you know, singles and some nice Parmesan Reggiano. Season it up with salt, pepper and a little nutmeg," Hogan said.

The resulting mornay sauce is then tossed with the soft potatoes, and once they're fully enveloped, he adds just a bit more of each cheese for good measure.

Into a generous ramekin it goes, topped off with a bit more cheese, then placed beneath a broiler for just a few minutes, until the top is slightly scorched brown.

He serves it immediately, with a juicy steak. It's a rare case of a French side dish fitting seamlessly into an all-American, meat-and-potatoes tableau.

"The creamy sauce against kind of still that rough, kind of, rough potato, almost. I don't want to say Grandma's lumpy mashed potatoes, but kind of that texture of that kind of rough potato with the creamy sauce really works well together," Hogan said.

You can find gratins all over town now, especially during the last few chilly weeks of March.

They're also made with root vegetables or sweet potatoes, but it's hard to beat plain ol' Idaho russets.

Keefer's Restaurant
20 W. Kinzie St.