This creamy, crispy-edged, cheesy, thyme-infused potatoes au gratin recipe is easy to make, and an irresistibly decadent sidekick to any meal.
There are few side dishes that are more comforting than those made with potatoes. Creamy mashed potatoes. Buttery parsley potatoes. The best potato salad ever. Smashed, twice baked, roasted potatoes, and so many more. But au gratin potatoes hold a special place in my food-loving heart. If you’re wondering what au gratin potatoes mean, it’s thinly sliced potatoes swathed in cream, topped with cheese, and cooked under the broiler. In other words, au gratin potatoes mean deliciousness.
Just like in my Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes recipe, I use a combination of cream and chicken broth that has been infused with the flavor of garlic and sautéed onion. No fussy roux or canned soup here. The result is creamy on the inside potatoes, with crisped bites along the edges, and no matter how you slice, spoon, or stack them, they fit in just right alongside any dinner, whether it’s roast turkey, the best steak, or simple garlic burgers.
What’s the Difference Between Scalloped and Au Gratin Potatoes
What is the difference between au gratin potatoes and scalloped potatoes? Home cooks want to know! The answer is not much. At this stage of evolution in the potato-side-dish-making game, the two are mostly interchangeable with mostly the same ingredients.
The distinguishing characteristics of both au gratin and scalloped potato recipes are:
- Creamy potatoes are stacked and cooked in a shallow dish.
- Said potatoes are topped with a delicious crust of cheese, bread crumbs, or another gratin-styled crisp.
- Au gratin potatoes are layered with cheese whereas scalloped usually have cheese only on top. Naturally, I add cheese everywhere.
What’s in Easy Potatoes au Gratin
These easy au gratin potatoes require very few ingredients to achieve their perfectly creamy, cheesy flavor. The potatoes au gratin ingredients you’ll need for this recipe are:
- Fresh thyme
- Kosher salt and pepper
- Heavy cream, half and half, or whole milk
- Chicken broth (the chicken broth loosens the cream a bit so it isn’t so cloying and clumpy)
- Potatoes, either Yukon golds or russets
- Bay leaves
- Gruyere cheese (I love gruyere for its melty nuttiness)
- Parmesan cheese (Parmesan brings an earthy, salty, umami flavor)
What Are the Best Potatoes for Au Gratin Potatoes?
Au gratin potatoes call for a sturdy potato that layers well and holds its shape after baking.
Yukon gold or russet potatoes are the best potatoes for au gratin potatoes. As the potatoes cook in the cream, their starches thicken the creamy sauce.
Do you peel the potatoes first? If I’m using thin-skinned Yukon gold potatoes, I don’t bother peeling the raw potatoes. If using russets, because of their thick skin, I will peel them before cooking.
What is the Preferred Cheese to Use for Au Gratin Cooking
Classically, the best cheeses for au gratin potatoes are Parmesan cheese, which adds a salty bite, and shredded gruyere which melts like a dream and adds an earthy, nutty flavor. Many Americanized versions of scalloped potatoes call for cheddar cheese instead.
How to Make Au Gratin Potatoes
There are a few simple steps I follow every time I make au gratin or scalloped potatoes, and then there are a few steps where I just let it be what it is depending on what’s in the fridge at the time. Here’s how to make them:
Slice your potatoes thinly. To get perfectly thin and uniform slices, I use my favorite hand-held mandoline to keep them uniformly 1/8-inch thick (using the #2 setting). Avoid rinsing or soaking the potatoes in water, which will rinse away the starches that help thicken the sauce. Again, if using thin-skinned Yukon gold potatoes, there’s no need for peeling before cooking.
If you don’t have a mandoline, do your best to slice the potatoes as thinly and evenly as possible. It’ll take more time to do it all by hand, but don’t try to rush it. Trust me, these potatoes au gratin are worth the extra effort.
Sauté the onion, garlic, and thyme in some butter first, or, make it even faster by layering them with the potatoes. For an even quicker bake, sometimes I thinly slice the onion and layer it with the potatoes instead of cooking it first in the sauce. The onion cooks just right.
Make the creamy sauce. Stir in the cream or milk with the chicken broth.
TIP: Scrape the waxy edges from the pieces of gruyere or Parmesan and add directly to the sauce to add more infused cheese flavor.
Cook your potatoes. Add the potato slices and bay leaves and bring to a rolling simmer, cooking for about 20 minutes, until they’re nearly fork-tender. Cooking the potatoes in the creamy mixture on the stove top releases their natural starches, and thickens the sauce, forgoing any floury roux you might see in other recipes. Plus, it gives them a head start before hitting the oven.
Layer and bake this dish uncovered. Layering cheese with the potatoes plus adding it as a topping is what makes an au gratin great. After you layer, bake the au gratin uncovered for 45-55 minutes or until the cream is bubbling around the edges and the cheese is golden brown. Baking the potatoes uncovered helps the creamy mixture thicken and absorb into the potatoes. It also creates a crisp, cheesy crust.
Can You Make Au Gratin Potatoes Ahead of Time?
Can you assemble homemade au gratin potatoes ahead of time? By all means, YES! This step is actually one I encourage after assembling the dish.
Can You Freeze Au Gratin Potatoes?
Yes, you can also freeze the au gratin potatoes before baking, then bake from frozen for 1 1/2 to 2 hours at 350°F.
For the best flavor, stick with fresh thyme. Dried thyme is much more potent in flavor, so stick with fresh.
Lighten it up with a heavy cream substitute. Heavy cream creates the thickest, creamy sauce for these potatoes au gratin. But, whole milk or half and half works well too.
Try other flavors of cheese. This dish is super versatile, so use any melty cheese you have on hand, including cheddar, provolone, fontina, etc.
What to Serve With These Potatoes to Make a Meal
If you make this recipe, please let me know! Leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating on this recipe below and leave a comment, take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #foodiecrusheats.
The BEST Au Gratin Potatoes Recipe
When your main dish recipe needs a decadent side dish sidekick, there’s nothing like a creamy, thyme-infused cheesy potatoes au gratin recipe to do the job, and to do it easily too.
Servings 10 servings
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 garlic cloves , pressed in a garlic press
- 1 medium onion , thinly sliced or minced
- 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves , or 3 stalks of fresh thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups heavy cream , or try half and half or whole milk
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 5 pounds Yukon gold potatoes , sliced thinly, about ⅛ inch thick
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 cup gruyere cheese , shredded
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese , shredded
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Melt the butter in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, then add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, stirring until garlic becomes fragrant. Add the onions, thyme leaves, and kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook until onions become soft, stirring occasionally, for about 4-5 minutes.
Stir in the cream or milk with the chicken broth. Add the potato slices and bay leaves and bring to a rolling simmer. Cover and reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are nearly fork-tender.
Begin stacking the potatoes with the sauce in a 1 ½ quart baking dish (an 8 X 8 or 9 X 6) sprinkling half of the cheeses as you layer, finishing with a layer of cheese.
Bake uncovered for 45-55 minutes or until the cream is bubbling around the edges and the cheese is golden brown. Let rest for 5-10 minutes until serving. This dish can be prepped ahead before baking, and refrigerated for up to 3 days before baking.
- There’s no need to peel thin-skinned Yukon gold potatoes before baking. If using thicker skinned russet potatoes, peel them first.
- The potatoes can be prepped and refrigerated up to 3 days before baking.
- To freeze potatoes au gratin: Wrap tightly with foil and freeze the au gratin potatoes before baking. Bake from frozen for 1 1/2 to 2 hours at 350°F.
- Adapted from Cooks Illustrated The New Best Recipe
Calories: 370kcal | Carbohydrates: 44g | Protein: 14g | Fat: 16g | Saturated Fat: 10g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 48mg | Sodium: 355mg | Potassium: 1086mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 553IU | Vitamin C: 50mg | Calcium: 342mg | Iron: 2mg
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