Monday, August 23, 2004
POTATO, SAUSAGE, AND LEEK GRATIN
Last night was my second time making this recipe taken from Bruce Aidells' Complete Sausage Book, which I checked out of the library a few months ago. I had no idea who Bruce Aidells was when I found the book, but I like sausage (because I find meat unappealing unless it’s very flavorful). As I was shopping for ingredients to make this recipe for the first time, I began perusing the sausage section at the grocery store and immediately noticed…Bruce Aidells brand sausage! This man is obviously some kind of sausage celebrity. So of course, I had to buy his brand. I chose the Cajun-style andouille, and it was great—high-quality and very spicy. I really recommend it, if you can find it, but perhaps it’s only available in California (he seems to be based in San Francisco).
The first time I made this recipe, it boiled over and made a huge mess of both the oven and the baking dish. The food itself was pretty good, but I wasn’t sure if it was worth all the scrubbing. So I still felt like the recipe was on trial this time around: could I make it less problematic? I was generous with the flour (the full 3 tablespoons) and sparing with the milk (I didn’t use quite enough to “cover the mixture in the pan” the way the recipe instructs). I also made sure to cover the bottom of the oven with aluminum foil beforehand to minimize cleanup. The result? It still boiled over, but less. Only a few droplets fell on the bottom of the oven, but sides and top of the pan were still pretty encrusted. Maybe I need a taller baking dish? (I used my rectangular Pyrex, as always.) The food itself came out a little drier and more solid, which I actually liked—less like scalloped potatoes, more like a hash. I also made an important discovery with the bread crumbs; the recipe tries to have you add them before baking, which means they just get all soggy and disappear into the milk, so instead I tried adding them when I removed the cover for the last 15 minutes of cooking, and they turned nice and brown and crisp. Thus, overall, I feel last night’s effort was a success, and I enjoyed eating it—I love leeks, and they melded well with the potatoes and the smoky, spicy sausage. (We had some salad on the side, which rounded out the meal.) You just have to be prepared for some messiness with this recipe…which is why I’m glad it’s A’s job to do the dishes.
Butter to taste
4 cups diced unpeeled red potatoes (about 4 medium-to-large)
1 cup finely chopped leeks (about 3 medium)
½ cup chopped green onions (4 large)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2-3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ to 1 pound high-quality smoked sausage (such as kielbasa), chopped
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and rub butter (ah, butter) thoroughly over the inside of a 2-to-3-quart baking dish. Add 2 cups potatoes, 1/2 cup leeks (the firm, white/light green ends only), and 1/4 cup green onions (the white bulbs plus an inch or two of the greens), mix well, and then sprinkle generously with salt, pepper, and half the flour.
2. Add all the chopped sausage to the pan. Then spread the remaining potatoes, leeks, and green onions on top. Sprinkle on more salt and pepper, and the remaining flour.
3. Here’s the crucial milk-pouring stage. Bruce says to “pour over enough milk to just cover the mixture in the pan,” but I only pour it to about the same level as the mixture in the pan—so potatoes and things are still visible on top. It’s a delicate balance; you wouldn’t want the dish to be too dry, but it sure does bubble over if there’s too much liquid.
4. Dot the top with butter and cover the pan with aluminum foil. Bake it, covered, for an hour, until the potatoes are tender. When the hour is up, take the pan out of the oven, remove the foil, sprinkle on the bread crumbs, and stick it back in to bake uncovered for 15-20 minutes more, until the top is brown.
Time: 1½ hours (but most of that is baking time)