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What is Au Gratin?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.
  • Oysters
  • Tuna, chicken or turkey casserole
  • Cauliflower
  • 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.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By Acracadabra — On Jun 10, 2011

@angelBraids - I can help you out, as I happen to have an entire cookbook dedicated to this one dish.

The absolutely easiest way to add variety is to change the cheese used. Many people go for cheddar because it's familiar, easy to work with, and often the cheapest type available. That's not always a bad thing, but there are so many more strong and versatile cheeses out there that work well too.

Here's my potatoes au gratin gruyere recipe. It's unbelievably simple with only four ingredients: 3 llbs of peeled potatoes, cut into 1/8-inch thick rounds; 1.5 cups crème fraîche; 1.5 cups (or 6 ounces) of grated Gruyère cheese & 2 tablespoons of fresh parsley, chopped.

Here's the method:

Heat the oven to 400°F. While waiting you can butter a good sized glass baking dish. I use one around 13 x 8 or 9. It should be around two inches deep too.

Slightly overlap half the potatoes on the bottom of the dish and add some salt/pepper. Put half of the cheese and the creme fraiche on top, repeat - so the grated cheese is the final addition.

After 30 minutes you need to reduce the temperature to

350°F. It will then take around another half hour or so, though you need to check the potatoes to make sure they are cooked through. (The dish should be uncovered throughout.)

When it's done leave it to stand for a few minutes and add the parsley just before serving.

By angelBraids — On Jun 07, 2011

My mother has been making au gratin potato casserole every Monday for as long as I can remember. It's delicious but I think it could do with a bit of a makeover.

Does anyone have any tasty recommendations for adding a bit of oomph without losing the potato part of it?

By yumdelish — On Jun 06, 2011

Hey thanks Wisegeek - you just settled a bet I had with a friend about the meaning of this phrase. I was totally sure that it didn't automatically mean cheese was in the recipe, and you proved me right.

I remembered that cheese in French is fromage, and was sure gratin meant 'grated'. To be fair though most people do think it means 'covered in cheese', and I love that dishes such as leek au gratin benefit from that misconception. (I love cheese!)

Actually my prize is a home cooked meal, so I think I shall ask for seafood au gratin.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia...
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