In the mid-west we are known for our casseroles and hot dishes. If you grew up here you might have memories of eating mounds of tater tot hot dish or green bean casserole. These recipes probably involved some variation of vegetables and/or tater tots swimming in a pool of condensed mushroom soup.
The word casserole itself has french origins. “Casse” refers to the type of pan that casseroles are usually cooked in. This makes sense as the early casserole was created in 1866 by a French Canadian named Elmire Jolicoeur who immigrated to New Hampshire. In the 1950s, preparation of casseroles became very popular and this had a lot to do with an increase in availability of light-weight glass and metal pans as well as modern inventions such as canned and processed food becoming available. People could easily create a dinner with canned goods.
What many seem to agree on in casseroles is the importance of a variety of textures. No one wants a casserole that is all soft and mushy! To add a bit of crunch dried onions are often added to the top of a green bean casserole and tater tots make up the crust of a tater tot casserole. In France, the gratin is what adds a texture to what is usually a soft inside.
Gratin refers to the brown crust of cheese and/or breadcrumbs a dish such as potatoes gratiné. Gratins can have a variety of ingredients such as vegetables, pasta, and seafood. Pretty much anything can be a gratin as long as it has that crunchy crust.
Fun Fact: “Le gratin” is also an idiomatic phrase that refers to being “the upper crust” of society.
Learn how to make a perfect gratin in our next cooking class: Winter Gratins, and hurry up we are almost sold-out!