Sunday, March 8, 2009

Gratin/Scallop - Let's Call the Whole Thing Off

Saucyman - Can you tell the difference between an au gratineed potato and a scalloped potato without using modern DNA technology? - Spuds

No. Yes. Maybe, I could guess that gives me a 50% chance of getting it right. And that is pretty much what it would be, a guess - there is a difference between the two techniques but the terms are used interchangeably.

The preferred term in the Saucykitchen is scalloped. This isn't so much based on correctness as much as the nomenclature goes back to one of my favorite childhood dishes - Ham & Scalloped Potatoes. The odd part, now as an adult who always has cream, bread crumbs and cheese at the ready - ham and potatoes are still the only things that get scalloped in the Saucykitchen. Not even scallops get scalloped but occasionally, I do wrap the shellfish in bacon - kinda an all in one anti-Leviticus meal - and crisp it up under the broiler, or I gratin scallops.

Au Gratin, gratin, grantier, but not so much the 70's stab at high culture dehydrated and stuffed into a box O'Gratin, all denote the same cooking technique. Currently, the gratin family of names means to brown - usually under a broiler. Originally, the term referred to a cook applying his or her craft to produce the gratter, not unlike a brazier's fond or paella's socarrat - this flavorful, brown, crusty, goodness would be scrapped or en fran├žais; gratter('d)(?) from the pot and served as a choice morsel. Eventually, the term evolved to mean any browned crusty deliciousness found on food. Just as the word changed, so too did the did the technique for producing the gratin; long slow stove top/fireplace cooking was no longer needed with the addition of bread crumbs, butter, cheese and/or the intense heat from a broiler could produce the desired effect.

While gratin possess a fairly straight-forward definition with very precise etymology, scallop/escalloped suffers no such fate and the term is vague to the point of distraction. Julia Child, that Rosetta Stone of the kitchen, who translated classic French dishes into modern recipes, uses scallop to designate food prepared by slicing and cooking in a liquid. Usually this means cream or 1/2 & 1/2, although not exclusively - stock, broth, milk or in the case of Saucyman's Midwestern upbringing, Cream of Mushroom soup can all be used to aid the scalloping process.

In her first cookbook, Ms. Child went as far as to state that certain gratin dishes like potato dauphinoise contain scalloped potatoes. So, we'll follow Ms. Child's lead and say that any food cooked in liquid is scalloped and any preparation that has been finished under the broiler with or without cheese and/or bread crumbs is a gratin. Which means the dish I have been enjoying since I was a saucyboy, should be called Ham & Scalloped Potatoes au Gratin.

Thanks for bearing with the low posting week last week. The new hard drive has been installed and rumor has that is powerful enough to dim all the lights on the block when it runs at full capacity.

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