Mornay or Gratin… do you know either??

Is it a MORNAY OR A GRATIN? If you are a bit confused, or in fact, never ever heard of them, you may not be alone.

Gratin… a dish that is browned (usually under a griller) to produce a brown/golden crust. It may or may not have a sauce covering the items. This often is done with breadcrumbs and butter. It was classically done in a ‘gratin dish’ that was flatter and was able to be placed under heat. It was usually served in the dish in which it was cooked. eg: Potato Gratin.

Mornay… a sauce based on a white sauce (or Béchamel) that then had cheese added.  This is the classic Mornay sauce. It can be used in conjunction with vegetable (eg Cauliflower) or meat, fish or poultry. Although cheese is traditionally present, it is not always the case and a plain white sauce can be used in a similar way.

Having got that far, it is possible to combine them both and we have usually called this a Mornay in Australia, but of course it is no such thing, it is a Gratin if the top is browned as most of the ‘mornay’ dishes are.

I feel an overwhelming sense of satisfaction at having explained that.

The point is the other night I was contemplating a good big bunch of asparagus and wondering how to cook it… I love a simple approach, just a dam fine Hollandaise, I love it baked in the oven on high heat with butter and lemon juice. But I wanted something different. Its been a while since I tackled a Gratin, decision made!

Basic Hollandaise

for 250 mil of sauce  


175 gr (5 1/2oz) unsalted butter

45 mil  (1 1/2oz)water

3 egg yolks

salt and white pepper

juice of 1/2 lemon

Melt the butter, cool it until tepid. Whip egg yolks and water over heat for three minutes till a firm mousse is formed, whipping all the time, gradually incorporate the butter into the egg mixture, salt and pepper to taste add lemon juice. Can be done in a blender, follow the basic recipe, process the water, egg yolks, salt, pepper and lemon juice in the blender for 10 seconds, while the machine is running, add the hot butter in a slow and steady stream until the mixture emulsifies

The mention of the word ‘mornay’ in my house will provoke cries of no no no!!! it is closely associated with Tuna or Salmon and has the addition of rice and for those who like it, chips of sweet corn (not me I hate the stuff) and was one of those dishes that was the housewives stand by in the past. Although to my mothers credit, she never did make this dish and I would assume that this was because of the butchering business my father’s family was in meat that meant it was not a problem to obtain. And since we lived on the wharf very near to the fishing boats, fresh fish was easy too. It was only when I left home that I was introduced to this dish. Mrs Trinham, Jennifer’s mother was very adept at running up a quick Tuna mornay and it always contained rice. She was equally adept at a dish she called …

Ki See Ming – eat it if you dare…


Serves: 4

30g butter or cooking oil

1 large brown onion, sliced

3 sticks celery (200g), diced

1 cup (125g) frozen beans

1/2 medium cabbage, diced

500g mince

1 packet chicken noodle soup

3 tablespoons soy sauce or to taste

about 2 cups (500ml) water

Melt butter in a heavy fry pan or large pot and fry the onion till soft, but not brown. Add celery and frozen beans and cook for two minutes. Add cabbage and stir for a few more minutes until coated with melted butter/oil. Add mince and stir till until the meat has lightly browned then add soup packet contents, soy sauce and just enough water to cover the mixture. Simmer for a further 20 minutes. It was not my favourite food, but I feel the need to share.

Let me start by expounding on Béchamel…

Basic Béchamel

*This sauce is the basis for so much and so many other sauces, you have to master it.

*Thin béchamel is used as a glazing sauce.

*Thick béchamel is the basis for soufflé (just up the flour and butter by and extra 30 grams each).

*Cheese sauce is made by adding cheese to the basic sauce (parmesan or gruyere is best).

*Cream sauce is similar but substitute cream for some of the milk.

500 mil milk, make it hot and if you want to, you can infuse the milk with onion, peppercorns, a bay leaf and cloves

50 gr butter (unsalted is best but if you use salted, you may not require any additional)

40 gr plain flour

freshly grated nutmeg.. this is not essential but is classic

salt and pepper

In a saucepan, melt the butter and stir in the flour, use a whisk, it’s easier, put the butter and flour back on the gas and cook for about a minute, this allow the flour nodules to open. Take off the heat and slowly pour in the hot (strained) milk whisking well all the way, put back onto the heat and keep the wisk moving about, a figure 8 is said to cover all the saucepan, it will thicken quickly. Taste for seasoning and add the nutmeg, salt and pepper. ( I occasionally stir in a spoon of mustard, Hot English or French Dijon) To keep from getting a film, you can either put a piece of greaseproof paper on top or float a little melted butter, which ever you think is better for you.

This sauce, I have been known to rave at my children about, is the basis for so much that learning to make it well, is an absolute necessity and I urge it on all of you to master it.

Asparagus – we are lead to believe that ‘young’ ergo thin asparagus is the go. The fact is that thin asparagus comes from younger plants, thick from older plants. While thick can be woody, it is more fully flavoured. White asparagus, not much grown in Australia is considered by many to be far superior in both taste and texture. I tend to go for a good thick stem, snap off at the natural place where the stem becomes woody and if need be, quickly peel with a potato peeler. Let me also suggest that you can keep the snapped off woody bits for a soup or a stock… don’t be wasteful.

Asparagus Gratin 

1 kilo of thicker asparagus, snapped and peeled and cut into 3 cm battons.

1 1/2 cups of chicken stock

1 largish eschallot peeled and finely diced




1 tablespoon


grind or two of black pepper

Use a frying pan with a lid and bring the stock to the boil, add the butter, asparagus, chopped eschallot, butter and pepper. Cook with the lid off to both cook the asparagus and reduce the stock… when the asparagus is cooked remove it and the eschallots, I use a sieve, taste the stock to see that it is not too salty.

Hard Boil three eggs, peel and put aside.

Make 500mil of Thick Béchamel as per above but replace 125 mil of the milk with 125 mil of the poaching liquid… add to that 150 grams of good sharp cheddar and 150 grams of grated parmesan, a heaped teaspoon of Dijon mustard or if liked, just remember that it is stronger, Hot English Mustard. Cook till the sauce is thick and the flour all cooked through.

Using a flattish dish, mix the asparagus onion and béchamel sauce, slice the hard boiled eggs and place on top, then cover the whole thing with a liberal spread of fresh breadcrumbs (I did about three or four thick slices of good bread that I chopped up in the processor with the addition of some butter.

Bake in a hot oven for 35 minutes till the top is browned and golden and the asparagus mornay bubbling.

Pasta Gratin (otherwise known as baked pasta) is a dish that will allow an infinite amount of variation. I like to make a Caramelised Onion and Sweet Potato mixed with a spiral pasta recipe, (follows) but you might want to think about such combinations as:

Mushroom, garlic and parsley

Zucchini and Red Onion

Oven Roasted Pumpkin with sweet Tuscan onion

Slow roasted tomato with garlic and basil

Caramelised Onion and Sweet Potato Gratin.

6 large brown or yellow onions peeled and sliced 3 – 4 mil thick.

1/3 rd of a cup of good EVO

1 heavy based pan on a medium heat, allow the pan to heat up and then add the oil, when the oil is hot, add the onions, there will be a lot of onion, but it will cook down. This needs to cook now until the onion has completely melted down and turned a golden brown, the process can take 40 minutes + and should be done on low heat.

Meanwhile cook the pasta and drain, I use about 750 grams or one packet of a good organic pasta that I get from Mediterranean Wholesalers in Sydney Road, Brunswick. Usually for this dish, a smallish spiral type is best. Set aside with a splash of oil to keep it from sticking when cooked and drained.

Meanwhile 2… make a batch of 500 mil of thick Béchamel flavoured with Parmesan, but save some Parmesan to scatter between layers and on the top.

Meanwhile 3.. with your favourite kitchen Mandolin(e) slice the sweet potato … I use one large one peeled and dropped into some acidulated water to prevent it colouring, slice about 2 mil thick and as evenly as possible. squeeze a little lemon juice over the slices.

Meanwhile 4.. select the herb to accompany and a couple of cloves of garlic. I in fact like to use Parsley and sage which I chop up with my trusty Mezaluna whilst chopping the garlic at the same time, adding a few anchovies to the chopping process.

Choose a good looking dish that can go from oven to table, being the big kitchen snob that I am, I of course choose Terracotta, besides which its ideal. Now you need to layer up, three layers of everything seems about right. A splash of olive oil on the bottom of the pan will stop it sticking, then start with a layer of sweet potato, a layer of caramelised onion, a scattering of herbs and garlic and a small handful of parmesan, repeat this process three times and then top with the 500 mil of Béchamel flavoured with a handful of parmesan and then scatter a further handful of Parmesan on the top. Bake in a moderate oven for 45 – 55 minutes or until the sweet potato is cooked.

Optional Extra additives can be… a scattering of dried currants, a scattering of toasted pine nuts, a scattering of desalted capers, some really good quality anchovies chopped with the herbs and garlic, a few handfuls of goats cheese. And pretty much any other fantasy ingredient you choose.

One hesitates to say serve it with a green salad, but then that is the best, so why not.


~ by peterwatson on October 7, 2011.

One Response to “Mornay or Gratin… do you know either??”

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