Sweet Potato and Bacon Gratin
November 21, 2011
Sweet potatoes are not very popular at my family Thanksgiving gathering. There are a few of us that enjoy them, but by and large they are passed around the table and politely declined. Even I, a professed yam lover, took years to warm to this tuber. It was not until I had them roasted and unsweetened for the first time that I took a liking to them. I think the added sugar is what gives sweet potatoes a bad name in some circles. If you love those super-sweet marshmallow-covered casseroles, then more power to you, but I cannot stand them. In my opinion, the key to a delicious sweet potato dish is to let the sweetness of the potato itself shine through and season it in a savory way instead.
Sweet Potato and Bacon Gratin is a super savory gratin layered with a creme fraiche bechamel. Of course it has another great thing going for it, bacon! What better way to entice skeptics than to lace a dish, any dish, with layers of crispy bacon. The recipe is adapted from apartmentcooker at bluestemkitchen via the new Food52 cookbook. Optimistically hoping that more than 2 will be diving into this dish, I multiplied the recipe to serve 8 Thanksgiving portions (6 if it is the only side dish on the table). The original recipe called for a bit of brown sugar, but as I mentioned before I do not add sugar to my sweet potatoes. Taking a few tips from the food52 community, I browned the bacon and then cooked down the onion in the bacon fat. To the bechemal, I added a bit of dry mustard for a flavor boost. This gratin bakes down into a beautifully layered, savory, melt in your mouth dish. I am banking on it being a hit with the skeptics this Thanksgiving.
serves 6 (multiply if you have a bigger crowd to feed)
6 slices bacon, diced
1 medium onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup creme fraiche
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon salt
freshly cracked pepper to taste
1/4 cup parmesan cheese (optional)
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/8 inch rounds
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 x 9 inch (or 2.5 quart) baking dish.
Brown the bacon over medium heat, turning occasionally to get an even crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel-lined plate to absorb the extra grease. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of bacon fat. Add the onions to the pan and cook until they are translucent, but not brown. Add the garlic, stir, and remove from heat. Toss the bacon and onion mixture together and set aside.
make the bechamel: In a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. When the foaming subsides, whisk in the flour. Cook for a few minutes while stirring to make sure the flour does not taste raw. While whisking, add the milk slowly. Add the creme fraiche. Continue whisking to break up any lumps. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat and cook until bechamel is thick, 5 minutes or so. Add the mustard, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Whisk to combine, then remove from heat.
Spread out a layer of sweet potato rounds on the prepared baking sheet. Layer with spoonfuls of bacon mixture and then bechamel. Repeat until the sweet potatoes and bacon mixture are all used up. Top with a final spread of bechamel and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. At this point you can cover the dish with plastic wrap and place in the fridge until ready to bake. Let come to room temperature before baking.
Bake gratin for 30-35 minutes until the bechamel is bubbly and the potatoes are cooked through. Put under the broiler for the last couple of minutes to give it a nicely browned top. Let cool slightly and serve.
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