Au gratin is a French style of cooking where breadcrumbs and butter are placed on top of a casserole of any type and browned under the broiler to give the top a nice crunch. Cheese in this topping is not a requirement, even if it is delicious. Cooks can make an au gratin dish without cheese simply with breadcrumbs and dots of butter.
Many of our most popular au gratin style casseroles do include grated cheese. When this is placed under the broiler, the cheese melts into the casserole, combining with the breadcrumbs to make a wonderful brown topping. Potatoes au gratin, for instance, is sliced potatoes with a béchamel or Mornay sauce, which are baked in the oven for about an hour before being finished via this method.
Many others recipes can benefit from this topping, and cooks may want to consider the following:
- Any type of creamy seafood dish, blended with a béchamel or Mornay sauce.
- Tuna, chicken or turkey casserole
- Ham or sausage and potatoes with béchamel or Mornay sauce
- Leeks, avocado, artichoke hearts, string beans, or asparagus
Cooks can even rescue leftovers by serving them in an au gratin style. For example, mashed potatoes, warmed slightly and then topped with breadcrumbs, butter and grated cheese can be used for a quick form of potatoes au gratin. Leftover meats or fish added to a cream sauce, warmed in the microwave and finished au gratin may be lovely.
There are even a few au gratin recipes for the strict vegan. Instead of the traditional béchamel sauce, these may employ a vegetarian and non dairy mushroom soup, and the breadcrumbs can be given a quick brushing with olive oil or margarine. Some grated tofu cheese can also be added.
If a cook adds a little brown sugar to breadcrumbs and butter, he or she can make a quick fruit dessert. Using this method, stewed fruit can be topped with the mix then broiled for a few minutes for a quick cobbler.
When preparing anything using the au gratin method, care must be taken when using the broiler. Broilers can so easily turn a dish into something blackened. Cooks should follow recipe directions for time in the broiler, and also take a quick check every minute to make sure that the topping is not burning.