Wendy Barrie, the founder of the Scottish Food Guide, tells us all we need to know about delicious gratin and shows us how easy it is to make at home.
Like many of our culinary expressions, gratin originated in France, and was enthusiastically adopted as an easy supper dish: haddock, sauced, breadcrumbs topped with mousetrap.
What could go wrong? We are blessed with fabulous seafood, so whether haddock, fresh or smoked, fishmonger’s fish pie mix, aka offcuts, or luxury scallops for a special occasion – all are equally delicious.
Vegetable gratins also work beautifully with courgettes, cauliflower or even Brussels sprouts! If using vegetables, steam before placing in the ovenware dish instead of poaching in milk.
Next, the breadcrumbs – I know of no commercial crumbs that get our vote! Breadcrumbs are easy to make and you can simultaneously rid yourself of the frustrations in life! Simply tear up the last morsels of a tired loaf and dry out on a plate.
Within days they will be sufficiently hard to pound to a fine grain in a mortar and pestle. It takes a matter of moments and the difference in flavour is outstanding. Store in an airtight jar for months and use as required.
Last but not least: cheese. As with bread, cheap cheese is a false economy. Buy blocks of mass-produced cheddar and your gratin will disappoint, however much cheese you add. Seek out an artisan cheese and you will have a gratin with rounded delicious flavours – a smoked cheese can work really well too.
Here is my simple seafood gratin that I like to serve with pickled beetroot, so, as the French would say, bon appetit…or in Swedish, varsågod!
To serve two, you’ll need 250g fish; 75g Connage Gouda; 3 tbsp breadcrumbs; 50g butter, 50g flour, 500mls milk, Scottish sea salt and black pepper; fresh dill/parsley.
Preheat the oven to 190C/Fan 170C/375F/Gas Mark 5. Place fish in a buttered ovenware dish. Cover with milk. Season. (If using smoked fish, reduce salt). Bake for 15minutes until fish is opaque. Remove from oven and drain the milk into a jug.
To prepare the sauce, melt butter and add flour to make a roux. Gradually blend in milk using a balloon whisk, stirring through to boiling point for a couple of minutes. The sauce should be smooth and sufficiently thick to coat the back of a spoon. Adjust seasoning and add herbs.
Pour sauce over cooked fish in the dish. Scatter breadcrumbs and grated cheese on top. Return to oven. Bake for 8-10 minutes until bubbling and golden.
More in this series: