Scalloped potatoes are a special side dish for holidays, especially when paired with roasted meats. But this recipe is so exquisite and easy, you can serve it any time of year. Scalloped potatoes are most often baked au gratin, but this recipe developed by Cyndi Sterne allows potatoes, bacon, and leeks to shine without getting overwhelmed by gobs of cheese. Sterne is the chef-entrepreneur of Yes, Chef! Culinary Events in Atlanta (you can follow her on Instagram), where she creates internet cooking experiences for companies and families. She originally developed successful children’s cooking camps, and her business grew to teaching culinary techniques to A-list corporations.
"I cherish the common bonds that we can find through food and cooking," Sterne told us. "When teaching a class, I love it when someone will share how they make a particular dish or how their grandmother made it." Sterne created this recipe for elegant scalloped potatoes as part of her Steakhouse Menu. "With very little effort, the results are very decadent."
Although Sterne’s scalloped potatoes could be served for a special occasion, it’s simple enough to execute with only a few ingredients, so you could enjoy this side dish any day of the week. Once you’ve tried this recipe, we’re sure you’ll agree that these scalloped potatoes are what your dinner table needs.
Gather the ingredients for your scalloped potatoes
You can find the ingredients for these scalloped potatoes anywhere. Sterne prefers Yukon Gold potatoes because they hold their shape, and their buttery color makes a beautiful presentation when they’re roasted or baked. If you can’t find Yukon Gold potatoes, steer clear of the russets, because they will "have a fluffier texture versus a creamier texture, and you want structure for this recipe," Sterne advised. She recommends red-skinned potatoes or smooth-skinned white potatoes as alternatives.
You’ll also need a few tablespoons of butter, some sliced bacon, thyme, salt and pepper, and heavy cream (we didn’t say this dish wasn’t rich). A nice sophisticated addition is the leek, which takes a little bit longer to cook than onion but has a sweeter, less-onion-y taste that pairs well with the other ingredients for the scalloped potatoes.
The first step in this recipe is preparing the pan. Butter a nine-inch baking pan with a teaspoon of unsalted butter, then line it with parchment paper and butter the paper. Before slicing the potatoes, preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Slice the Yukon gold potatoes for these scalloped potatoes
Sterne is a veteran chef, so she’s got the knife skills to slice the scalloped potatoes very thinly. If you’ve got a mandoline slicer, you’ll get the potatoes sliced in a couple of minutes. But if you just have a chef’s knife, this step will be the only time-consuming part of the recipe. Make sure your cutting board is placed on a flat surface. If you have a tile counter, a neat restaurant trick is to lay a wet dish towel under the cutting board, which prevents it from slipping. We’ve also found it easier to first slice a small sliver from one long side of the potato and then lay the potato on the cut side, which, again, keeps it in place.
A sharp knife is essential to get the even slices you’ll want for your presentation when you serve. Have a large bowl of cold water nearby because you’ll put the sliced potatoes into it to prevent them from oxidizing and turning brown while you prepare the other ingredients. Slice each potato about 1/8-inch thick, and try to be even with the slices so they’ll all cook together at the same rate. Once you’ve sliced a potato, transfer the slices to the bowl of cold water. When you’ve finished slicing, you’ll move on to the next step.
Wash and cut the leek for the scalloped potatoes
Leeks resemble gigantic scallions, and although you can use an entire scallion (minus the root end) in a recipe, leeks need to be trimmed and cleaned. The hard green leaves are good for flavoring soups and vegetable stock, but otherwise, they’re inedible. You’ll be using the white and pale green part of the leek, so chop off the dark green tops and discard them or save them for stock.
You can thinly slice the leek as is (it will still need to be washed), or we prefer slicing the leek lengthwise and running it under cold water to wash away grit and dirt. With the water running, slightly spread the layers of the leek, fanning them, and rinse until it’s cleaned. Pat the leek dry with paper towels, and slice the leek thinly. Don’t worry if the slices fall apart — this will actually make them easier to sauté. Put the sliced leek into a bowl and set aside so you can move onto the next step of this scalloped potatoes recipe.
Sauté the bacon and leek for the scalloped potatoes
If you don’t want to use bacon for the scalloped potatoes, you could skip it to opt for a vegetarian version, or, as Sterne recommends, substitute it with pancetta, ham, or turkey bacon. Some bacon can have a strong smoky flavor, and if you like that, then simply chop the bacon into 1/4-inch pieces. If you want to eliminate the smokiness, you could try Julia Child‘s method of blanching the bacon first, which she does in her famous recipe for boeuf bourguignon.
Put the slices of bacon into a saucepan of simmering water, and let them soak for ten minutes. Then drain the bacon, pat the slices dry, and you’re ready to cut the slices into pieces for the scalloped potatoes. Heat up a tablespoon of olive oil or vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped bacon, and sauté for a couple of minutes to start rendering the bacon fat. Stir in the leek slices, and sauté until they’ve begun to soften and turn translucent and the bacon is just starting to brown. Drain any excess fat from the skillet and set aside.
Layer the sliced potatoes in the prepared pan
Drain the scalloped potatoes and pat them completely dry with paper towels. Beginning with the outer edge of the prepared baking pan, place the potato slices in the pan along the rim in a circular pattern. As you keep adding the slices, they’ll stand on end. Continue stacking the potato slices in a ring, keeping them in rows, if you can, which will make it easier to serve the finished dish in individual portions.
Make sure you use all of the potatoes, cramming in the last few into the center. (Depending on the size of the potatoes you’re using, you may need to do some more slicing.) Once you’re done stacking the potatoes, spread the bacon and leek over the top, filling in the empty spaces between the rows.
Combine heavy cream, thyme, and butter, then pour over scalloped potatoes
Combine 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter, 1 cup of heavy cream, and 4 sprigs of fresh thyme or 2 tablespoons of dried thyme in a saucepan. Heat the contents very slowly to avoid the cream from foaming up and bubbling out of the saucepan. If you want to elevate the flavor even more, Sterne suggests adding a 1/4 cup of white wine to the cream and butter, which you’ll need to simmer a little longer to cook off the alcohol in the wine. For a vegetarian version, use vegan butter and vegetable stock instead of cream.
Let the butter melt and the thyme infuse the cream with flavor. Season the scalloped potatoes liberally with salt and freshly ground pepper. Remove the thyme sprigs, and pour the mixture over the potatoes, bacon, and leek. Rather than discard the thyme sprigs, you could also nestle them between layers of potatoes.
Bake these delicious scalloped potatoes and serve
If you really crave some cheese in your scalloped potatoes, Sterne told us you could top the potatoes with shredded Gruyere or cheddar. Put the baking pan on the middle rack in the preheated 400-degree Fahrenheit oven, and bake 25 minutes until browned and bubbly. Let the scalloped potatoes cool for ten minutes. You could serve them with a slotted spoon right out of the baking pan, or for a more sophisticated presentation, use a spatula and spoon to transfer a stack of the potatoes onto individual plates. Sterne told us that cook time could be shortened by roasting the sliced potatoes on a baking sheet the day before, then assembling everything the following day and baking the potatoes until heated through.
Sterne serves these scalloped potatoes with roasted beef tenderloin for an intimate date night or alongside a turkey or roast for a big family holiday dinner. If you have any leftovers, you can heat them up the next day and serve for breakfast with a fried egg on top. We asked Sterne what she loved most about cooking. "It’s one of the most transformative experiences," she said. "I find fulfillment in creating a common bond that everyone can share." This rich and satisfying recipe for scalloped potatoes will stay in your repertoire for years to come.
Scalloped potatoes are often cooked as a special side dish for holidays. But this recipe is so exquisite and easy, you can serve it any time of year.
- 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (about 4 medium or large potatoes)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 medium leek
- ¼ pound sliced bacon
- 1 tablespoon olive oil or vegetable oil
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme or 2 tablespoons dried thyme
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit with a rack in the middle of the oven.
- Divide 1 tablespoon unsalted butter into 2 teaspoons, and butter an 8-inch cake pan with 1 teaspoon. Line the pan with parchment paper, then butter the paper with another teaspoon of butter.
- Slice the potatoes about ⅛-inch thick, and put them into a bowl of cold water to prevent them from turning brown.
- Cut off the dark green part of the leek and discard. Slice the leek in half lengthwise, and rinse it under cold running water to clean out any grit. Dry the leek, then thinly slice.
- Chop the bacon into ¼-inch pieces. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil or vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped bacon, and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the leeks to the bacon, and sauté until the leek slices are softened and the bacon is just starting to brown. Drain any excess fat from the skillet.
- Drain the potatoes and dry them with paper towels. Beginning with the outer edge of the prepared cake pan, stand the potato slices in a circular pattern. Keep adding the potato slices in a ring, stacking them in neat rows. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
- Spread the bacon and leek mixture over the potatoes.
- Combine 3 tablespoons butter, the heavy cream, and the fresh or dried thyme, and heat over very low heat until the butter has melted. Remove the thyme sprigs, and pour the mixture over the potatoes, bacon, and leek. Alternatively, you could nestle the thyme sprigs between layers of the potatoes.
- Bake for 25 minutes, until bubbly and brown. Let the potatoes cool for 10 minutes. If you’ve left the thyme sprigs in, remove them now and discard. You can serve the potatoes with a slotted spoon, or for a nicer presentation, transfer an entire stack of the potatoes, keeping them lined up, onto a plate.