Potato bake is probably one of the most popular side dishes served with everyday grilled meat, chicken or fish meals. I find that in many South African homes potato bake is prepared making use of a white sauce and cheese, which is fine and still tastes quite nice, but it’s absolutely nothing compared to the real thing.
In the south-east of France there is a region called Dauphiné, where the the world famous dauphinois originated. It’s a most glorious potato bake prepared with sliced potatoes and creme fraiche. Fresh cream works perfectly fine if creme fraiche is not available. Garlic is used to add some flavour and I like to include fresh thyme and finely grated Gruyere. Gruyere is a creamy, but nutty, hard Swiss cheese. It develops quite a strong flavour with age and is an excellent cheese to add to dished like these.
It’s important to remember to season as you assemble the dish. There’s nothing worse than a potato bake with no flavour. Instead of thyme, chopped parsley is also great to incorporate. The thyme adds an earthy depth to the overall dish which you won’t achieve when using parsley, but it will still be pretty tasty.
Dauphinois must not be rushed. It needs to bake for at least an hour in order for the potatoes to cook through, firstly and secondly for the moisture to evaporate from the cream or creme fraiche, which results in the most delicious, rich and thick sauce. If you, for some reason, can’t get cream and have to use milk, then prepare a very thin white sauce, but just don’t mix eggs into milk and pour that over the potatoes. That is definitely not what a potato bake is supposed to be. Never. It will still be pretty decent when prepared with a thin white sauce, but the best remains cream!