What Does 'Au Gratin' Actually Mean?

Parmesan-Crusted Potato Gratin

Which sounds fancier: Potatoes—or au gratin potatoes? One is something you eat with bacon and sour cream in front of the TV, 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 10x classier. That’s just a fact. 

Cooking dinner shouldn't be complicated

But is preparing something “au gratin” (pronounced "oh grat-an") something one can only do if they’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 a fancy schmancy-sounding dish like Baked Scallops Au 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

mr-Sheet Pan Scalloped Potatoes with Ham and Peas Image

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, rely on cheese for its signature creaminess—you’ll usually find lots of grated Cheddar sprinkled between each layer.

Of course, there are other differences: As a general rule of thumb, Potatoes au gratin is 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 a bit thicker. 

Gratin Recipes

Pumpkin-and-Winter Squash Gratin

Now that you’re not so intimidated by the method, it’s time to get cooking: 

  • Au Gratin Potato Casserole 
  • Pumpkin-and-Winter Squash Gratin
  • Gnocchi Gratin With Ham and Cheese
  • Curried Cauliflower Gratin
  • Brussels Sprouts Gratin

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