Cooking in Clay: au Gratin dishes

Rachael Ray's Au Gratin Bubble and Brown Dish

“There are as many ‘authentic’ versions of gratin dauphinois as there are of bouillabaisse.” — Julia Child

I have four au gratin dishes, two different sets and I find them useful because of their size. Shallow and elongated, they allow food to cook and brown evenly. Usually, cheese or bread crumbs and butter are part of traditional recipes and the dish is placed under a broiler in the final stages of cooking. While they all have the same oval shape, au gratin dishes come in different sizes and are made of different clays, some heavier, some lighter. The set of Rachael Ray dishes at the top left have a light, modern look and I can imagine how pretty they’d look with fresh sliced tomatoes peeking through the browned bread crumbs on top. Gratin cookware can be fancy, delicate, or designed for heavy use. It also tends toward cheerful colors and the most gloomy day can be pepped up by using them. Besides, what’s more homey and inviting than the crackle and pop, the mouth-watering aroma, and the rustic appeal of a dish cooked au gratin? The stoneware dishes at the right, 

Barking Spider Pottery's Rust Au Gratin Dishes

made by Barking Spider Pottery in North Carolina, are quite lovely and look like they would hold heat well and be a long-lasting addition to your kitchen. I wouldn’t mind having a set of these myself! Interestingly, heavy restaurant-ware versions of gratin cookware are sold as Welsh Rarebit china. (I’m not sure why there is such a distinction because that classic dish is usually cooked and served on a plate.) Many companies carry mass-produced gratin dishes, including Pfaltzgraff and le Creuset. As far as recipes, here are 19 from Emeril’s site, which are bound to please!

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