The Only (Scalloped) Potato You Need - No. 153
Mormon Funeral Potatoes deliciously hack frozen hash browns for covered dish suppers or steaks off the grill
It’s potato gratin week at Between the Layers. Today the cheats. And on Thursday, for paid subscribers, my Potatoes Dauphinoise, a splurge recipe where I never measure, but cups and scale are on the counter so I promise to get that recipe ship shape by Thursday. I’ve also got a survey today on slow-cookers. If you’re a slow-cooker fan and have tricks to share with us, take the survey, below!
MY APOLOGIES FOR a supermarket tabloid headline.
But there really is just one potato recipe you need right now. It is both Hermes scarf and cozy, frumpy sweater depending on how you serve it and what you serve it with, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
It is the potato casserole. Your mom might have called it scalloped potatoes or if feeling fancy, ‘’escalloped.’’ Or fancier still, ‘’au gratin.’’ But whatever she called it, or you call it, a potato casserole serves up comfort and doesn’t break the bank.
So I’m giving you the one—ok, two—easy recipes that you can repeat over and over this fall. And then on Thursday, I share the ultimate potato casserole—Dauphinoise—so sharpen your knife or pull out the mandoline.
But don’t worry about precision today. Because today’s recipes are unapologetic hacks.
I’ve been a super-fan of potato casseroles since I was old enough to spoon into them and as recently as just last weekend.
They go with everything, from steaks off the grill, to braised pork loin to roasted chicken to vegetable plates alongside winter greens. And they pick up where potato salad left off in the potato recipe calendar. I weep to see potato salad pack its bags til spring. But its cozier cousin brings garlic, Parm, and cream, or maybe just some onions. It calls for the copper gratin dish all proper and ready to go oven-to-table or my favorite blue Dutch oven or the stack of hand-me-down Pyrex pans, worn and splattered from years of loving abuse.
But don’t think for a minute I am all knowing of cheesy, gooey, potato sides. In fact, it was back in May when I wrote about Jell-O and the state of Utah’s affection for the molded salads that subscriber Tawni Anderson told me that Utah, ground zero for quirky regional cooking, is known for Mormon Funeral Potatoes, too.
Anne Byrn: Between the Layers is reader-supported. To not miss new recipes, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber. The holidays are around the corner, and the focus of my Thursday letters through the end of the year will be baking.
She suggested I find a cookbook called This is the Plate: Utah Food Traditions, which I bought, and it’s been patiently waiting for me to flip to the Funeral Potatoes in Utah chapter.
And this book, oh my, this book is full of delicious food kitsch. There’s a Green Jell-O chapter and a chart called ‘’The Jell-O Matrix,’’ excerpted from a cookbook called No Man Knows My Pastries: The Secret (Not Sacred) Recipes of Sister Enid Christensen (Signature Books, 1992). Who is Sister Enid, I ask?
The chart lists ingredients you can add to Jell-O salads down the left column and the possible flavors of Jell-O across the top so you can match and assemble a salad suitable for any occasion. Such as…adding mini marshmallows to lemon Jell-O is appropriate for a grandparent’s birthday but if added to orange Jell-O might be better for a Temple dedication or a mall opening. God bless Mormon humor!
But back to those funeral potatoes…
Tawni, a Salt Lake City attorney, is a native, fourth-generation Utahn—‘’but I’ve never been Mormon/LDS, so my experience of funeral potatoes is probably a bit different from folks who were more fully in that community. Nevertheless, growing up here since 1970 means I’ve been very close to the culture.’’
Tawni looked in a Catholic community cookbook (1993) from her family’s longtime parish. There were ‘’three different recipes for a dish that by any other name would be funeral potatoes.’’ Nope, not called funeral potatoes.
That might sound too Mormon. But regardless of the name, these Utah potato casseroles speak to a thrifty, self-reliant home cook. They aren’t fancy but feed crowds at covered dish suppers following funerals, baptisms, and holidays.
In fact, I’ll bet Funeral Potatoes are baked in every pocket of America. I’ll bet someone is making one right now.
And it reminded me of my easy potato casserole that I’ve been making for 20 years, that other potato casserole hack.
It was in my book The Dinner Doctor. It calls for frozen diced potatoes, not the shreds. You can half the recipe if you like. It’s all about the heavy cream, good Parm, and lots of garlic. Oh, and overcooking it so it gets crispy around the edges. I’ve started making it in an iron skillet so the edges are really crispy!
It’s everything funeral potatoes are but it has garlic, which I did not see in any of the Mormon recipes.
I call it Last-Minute Scalloped Potatoes:
1. Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Empty a 32-ounce bag of diced hash browns into a 12-inch skillet or 13- by 9-inch pan. Stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan, 3 to 5 cloves minced garlic, salt and pepper to taste, and 2 cups cream until combined. Cover the skillet or pan with a lid or with foil, and place in the oven. Bake until the mixture is bubbly, about 45 to 50 minutes. Remove the skillet from the oven.
3. Turn off the oven and preheat the broiler. Uncover the skillet, and scatter 1 tablespoon of Parmesan and a handful of grated cheese of your choice over the top and broil until melty. Or, forgo the cheese, and scatter buttered bread crumbs on top about 10 minutes before the potatoes are done.
At the end of the day, potato casserole, even if it’s based on a bag of frozen potatoes, has its place. You can take it to a potluck. You can serve it alongside a birthday steak. You can make and take it along with a supermarket roasted chicken to a new family on the street. Just add a salad!
It is the humble sort of non-judgmental fare that you can serve anyone, anywhere, and if they’re Mormon and from Utah, they will smile and say:
‘’That’s funeral potatoes.’’
Do you know Funeral Potatoes? What about hash brown casserole?
Coming Thursday for Paid Subscribers: Potatoes Dauphinoise.
Like I said, I seldom use a recipe, but this Thursday I share my most favorite potato recipe of all. I will weigh the potatoes, measure the cream, and tidy things up so you can take this recipe into fall and winter and thank me. And in the next few days I’ll be drawing a name of a lucky subscriber who gets the September cookbook giveaway, Southern Biscuits, by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart.
The SLOW COOKER SURVEY!
I know you’ve been waiting with bated breath for this one…Planning a slow-cooker piece this fall, and I need your help:
Mormon Funeral Potatoes
There are infinite knock-offs of this hash brown casserole. What all these recipes have in common is a big bag of frozen hash browns, either shredded or diced. No peeling, chopping, or worrying that fresh potatoes will darken while you make the sauce. Just pull the bag out of the freezer and begin. You can make a homemade white sauce (béchamel), like this recipe or one based on cream of mushroom soup. In fact, most of the Mormon funeral potato recipes are based on canned soup. And some have this quirky addition of crushed potato chips on top before the casserole goes in the oven. But who’s complaining? I am sure children in Utah or pretty much any state would marvel at a recipe crowned with potato chips. You can prep potato casseroles ahead of time, and place them in the fridge for up to two days before baking. Bake uncovered, and allow a little extra baking time if the casserole is straight from the fridge. This recipe is adapted from one shared in Cook’s Country Magazine and This is the Plate.
Makes 8 to 12 servings
Prep: 20 to 25 minutes
Bake: 40 to 45 minutes
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups chopped onions
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups half-and-half
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, if desired
1/4 teaspoon black pepper or nutmeg or both
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 bag (30 ounces) frozen shredded hash brown potatoes
1/2 cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
3 cups potato chips, crushed (sour cream and onion or just plain)
Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven or skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, and stir and cook until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the flour, and cook less than a minute. Whisk in the half-and-half, salt, thyme, and black pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and switch to a wooden spoon. Stir until slightly thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn off the heat. Stir in the cheese to melt.
Dump the potatoes into a large bowl, and break them up with a spoon. Pour the sauce into the bowl, and stir to combine. Stir in the sour cream. Turn the mixture into a 13- by 9-inch pan or a shallow Dutch oven or your favorite large casserole dish. Top with the crushed potato chips, and bake until lightly browned and bubbly, 40 to 45 minutes. Serve while hot.