Whether they’re sliced, diced or thrice-fried to make extra-crispy French fries, potatoes comprise some of the most comforting carbs on the culinary spectrum. But through no fault of their own, they often turn out as boring and bland as a Bill Belichick press conference.
That’s why Ian Rough, a Culinary Institute of America graduate who is now the corporate chef for Ocean Prime, made it a point to spice up his take on potatoes au gratin to help elevate the steak-and-seafood-heavy menu at his restaurant. A seldom-seen side outside of Ocean Prime, jalapeño au gratin has been on the menu at Rough’s restaurant for more than a decade and puts a peppery spin on the steakhouse mandate of meat and potatoes.
“When you have a potato gratin, they’re traditionally very rich, cheesy, buttery and creamy and all these amazing things,” Rough tells InsideHook. “How do you put a twist on that? Many times it’s done with different cheeses that add different flavor profiles and whatnot. With ours, we’re throwing in an element of some spice that adds a little bit of depth. You get a cooling effect from that creamy, rich cheese and spice from the jalapeño. But one of the keys is that it actually has a pepper flavor and isn’t overly spicy. The dish won’t light you up by any means.”
The side dish’s subtle spice comes from the way the peppers are prepared before they’re paired with the potatoes.
“The way we get that pepper flavor is by steeping the jalapeños in the cream that’s soaked throughout the whole dish,” Rough says. “We also go ahead and put those peppers right on top of it when it bakes. So they’re cooking into the dish the whole time. The flavor is infused into that cream. That really works well. It’s just it’s to die for.”
And it was using jalapeños instead of a spicier type of pepper that ensured the dish wasn’t a killer in terms of heat.
“Habaneros and peppers like that have a place in things. But they are really spicy and don’t provide the pepper flavor that we were going for. You’re just going to get mostly spice and it’s a little harder to control,” Rough says. “Jalapeños are in the middle. They are a little bit higher spice level than a poblano or a banana pepper and they also have this really nice pepper flavor. They have a freshness and a punch of spice that really adds a nice flavor.”
That peppery flavor pairs perfectly with the layered potatoes that serve as the foundation of the off-beat au gratin.
“I’d describe it as just rich, and creamy with nice spice content,” Rough says. “I’m an Irish guy and I like my potatoes, but it’s amazing that they can have so much depth. They just lend themselves to so many different preparations. You can come up with something great.”
Now you can too, with the below recipe for Ocean Prime’s recipe jalapeño au gratin, courtesy of Chef Rough.
Ocean Prime’s Jalapeño au Gratin
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 5 pounds Idaho potatoes (weight after peeling)
- 1 quart heavy cream
- 2 ounces sliced jalapeño pepper
- 2 tablespoons Kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon white pepper
- Grated Gruyere cheese
- Use oil to grease a 9×13 baking pan.
- Peel potatoes and slice 1/8-inch thick on mandolin.
- Place cream and jalapeños in a sauce pot and simmer (do not boil).
- After cream comes to a simmer, season with salt and white pepper.
- Remove from heat and allow to steep for 10 minutes.
- Shingle one layer of potatoes in the hotel pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Repeat step 6 until you have used all of the potatoes and the salt.
- Pour cream and jalapeños over gratin and wrap with plastic wrap.
- Top with aluminum foil and poke 4-5 holes with a knife to vent.
- Bake at 350 degrees for an hour on a sheet tray. Make sure the potatoes are cooked through in the center.
- Top with grated Gruyere and place under broiler until bubbly.
- Serve and enjoy.
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