What Does 'Au Gratin' Actually Mean?

Everything sounds fancier in French.

closeup au gratin potatoes with onions

Which sounds fancier: Potatoes or au gratin potatoes? One is something you eat with bacon and sour cream in front of the TV, while the other is something you order from a waiter wearing a waistcoat to go with your filet mignon. Tacking a French phrase onto anything makes it sound ten times classier. That’s just a fact.

But is preparing something “au gratin” (pronounced "oh grat-an") something you can only do if you've been to culinary school?

What Does “Au Gratin” Mean?

A “gratin” is any dish that is topped with cheese or breadcrumbs mixed with butter, then heated in the oven or under the broiler until brown and crispy, according to The Food Lover’s Companion. The term au gratin or gratinée just refers to anything prepared in that manner.

So, no, making an elegantly titled dish like Garlic Potatoes Gratin doesn’t require any special set of skills. All it really takes is some breadcrumbs, butter, and an oven.

Scalloped Potatoes vs. Au Gratin Potatoes

Scalloped potatoes and au gratin potatoes have a lot in common. The main thing that separates the starchy dishes is how dairy fits into the equation. Scalloped potatoes are usually baked in a casserole dish with heavy cream, milk, and aromatic herbs.

Potatoes au gratin, meanwhile, relies on cheese for its signature creaminess — you’ll usually find lots of grated cheddar sprinkled between each layer.

Of course, there are other differences: Potatoes au gratin is often topped with breadcrumbs; meanwhile, scalloped potatoes can involve breadcrumbs, but the crunchy topper is less of an iconic signature of the dish. Also, though both dishes call for potatoes cut into rounds, scalloped potato rounds are generally thicker.

Au Gratin Recipes

Mom's Scalloped Potato Gratin

Get the Recipe: Mom's Scalloped Potato Gratin

Cheesy Zucchini Gratin

Get the Recipe: Cheesy Zucchini Gratin

Truffled Cauliflower Gratin in a square white casserole
Brie Passano

Get the recipe: Truffled Cauliflower Gratin

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