Gratin dishes, which can include any baked dish that has a crunchy top made from cheese or bread, can make for easy yet delicious side dishes. When making any type of gratin dish, make sure that the ingredients are equal in size and are not too big to cook through before the crust burns. To prevent sticking, grease your baking dish first, and use a wider, shallow pan to maximize the amount of crust that the dish has. For the best crust, cook the gratin at a high heat uncovered or cover it until the insides are cooked through, putting it under a broiler to brown the top before serving.
One of the most important parts of cooking a food au gratin is to make sure that the main ingredient is sized properly so that it cooks through before the top burns. With starchy, longer cooking ingredients such as potatoes or other root vegetables, thin slices are generally best, as these will become tender in about the same time as it takes for the top to brown. On the other hand, quick-cooking vegetables such as asparagus or broccoli should be kept large so that they do not overcook before the top is crunchy. When making a dish with multiple ingredients, ensure that all of the components are the same size so that you don’t have one raw or one overcooked section.
As with any casserole, greasing the baking pan before adding the ingredients can make serving gratin dishes much easier. Even with a non-stick baking sheet, the high heat used when making gratin dishes can cause food to adhere to the sides or the bottom of the pan. You can grease it with a cooking spray, lightly rub it down with oil or shortening and a paper towel, or use butter.
The star of any gratin is the crust, and one of the best tips for making this type of side dish is to ensure that there is as much crust as possible. In general, the easiest way to accomplish this is to use a wider, shallower pan in place of a smaller, deeper one. This will not only shorten the cooking time of the meal, but also provide more surface area on top for the tasty cheese and breadcrumb topping.
Determining whether or not to cover the dish during the cooking process is one of the most important parts of making gratin dishes. If the ingredients that you are using will take long to cook or the dish is deep, cover it until everything is cooked through, and then remove the cover so that the top can brown; generally, the broiler is best for this. Shallow dishes and instances when the ingredients are small or thin enough to cook through by the time the top is browned can typically be left uncovered throughout the cooking process; however, keep any eye on the dish to make sure that the top does not burn.