Few people are able to understand the heartache that comes with adoring potato dauphinoise. Amelie is one of these people. Not only did she cook me, Ruth and Keelan the most perfect vegan potato dauphinoise ever, but in the same week managed to get into some kind of virtual tussle with Felicity Cloake over what exactly makes up such a flawless yet infamously tricky dish.
See, the problem with potato dauphinoise is that when it's done right, it's a wall of creamy potato, infused in garlic with an impossible-to-place yet omnipresent nutmeg seasoning. It's the kind of side dish that people row over at Sunday lunch. It's the kind of dinner I've been known to simply take out of the oven and walk off to my room with, oven mits still in hand.
So, conversely, when it's done wrong, when there's cheese, clumps of garlic, onion, ham, bacon, egg, (THESE HAVE ALL HAPPENED TO ME) it's heartbreaking, and why, until now, I had never even attempted to go near it with soy cream.
My Nanny was also one of the few people who fully comprehended the gravity of the gratin. Her potato dauphinoise was secretly also Marks and Spencer's, carefully re-assembled in her own crockery, heated to perfection and shared out among my aunts and uncles. Everyone always wanted more dauphinoise, but once it had all been served up, my portion never seemed big enough. I soon worked out that if I went to see my Nanny in the kitchen twenty minutes after dessert, she'd let me help her 'tidy up' the plastic microwave-able dish the dauphinoise came in, our stealth second helpings disguised by the rumble of the dishwasher.
Just as I tried to savour my helping of creamy potatoes as a child, I now only ever make dauphinoise when nothing else will do. Sick days, birthdays and bad days, when life gives me lemons, I can still be found in the kitchen tidying up bits of leftover potato. This one is for you Nanny!
This is based on Amelie's recipe for potato dauphinoise. I would use fresh nutmeg over ground anytime, but ground is better than nothing, so just use what you have in. Unlike some other recipes I've seen, the potatoes are not parboiled, as this means any moisture they soak up is also from the cream, making it far richer and less likely to go gloopy or too sloppy. A slice of this should stand up on its own.
Makes enough for 4, or 2 if you are not in a sharing mood. Let's be realistic.
500ml cartons soy cream
4 garlic cloves, sliced in half
400g potatoes, peeled and sliced as thinly as possible, around 1mm- 4mm thick.
Gently heat the soy cream in a pan, with a good amount of seasoning and about 1 tsp of nutmeg. Add in three of the garlic cloves and allow to simmer. It's much better to add the salt here, so taste the cream to test if it needs any more. Once heated through, remove and discard the garlic from the cream and set aside while you prepare the dauphinoise dish.
Using the remaining garlic clove, rub a wide, shallow dish all over with the cut-open side of the clove. You may need to use both halves to get a thorough coating.
Then begin to layer up the potatoes, slightly overlapping the edges as you work across the dish. Once you've completed a layer, pour over a quarter of the cream and grate some more fresh nutmeg over. You should be able to do around 3-4 of these layers, before pouring the rest of the cream over the last of the potatoes.
Place in the middle of the oven and cook for at least 40 minutes. The top potatoes should be crispy, the middle and bottom piping hot. Allow to stand for a few minutes before serving, or bribing everyone else to leave.