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Scalloped Potatoes Vs Au Gratin – What is the Difference?

Potatoes are one of the ultimate comfort foods. We make fries from them, potato skins, baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes, and other warm, hearty dishes that are filling and flavourful.

Potatoes are the most commonly eaten vegetable in the world, mostly thanks to French fries and their ubiquity, but also because potatoes are an important part of many dinners. One of the best dinner dishes you can make with a potato is potatoes au gratin. Or is that scalloped potatoes? Aren’t they the same thing, and if they are, then why the two different names? Perhaps these are just the same dish with two different languages at work.

Let’s clear up the confusion on scalloped vs au gratin potatoes.

Why the Confusion?

Comparing potatoes au gratin vs scalloped, you can see there are some definite similarities, but let’s clear up the misconception that they are not the same. These are two distinct dishes, but here is why they get confused for one another.

Technically speaking, both of these dishes are rich and creamy foods made with sliced potatoes. Those potatoes are served in a casserole dish or a cake pan, if that’s all you have hand. As far as we’re concerned, the cake pan becomes a casserole dish as soon as you make a casserole in it, though.

So, if you have two dishes made with a lot of the same ingredients and with similar taste and texture characteristics, you can be forgiven for mistaking them for one another. You could even look at a comparison of scalloped potatoes vs au gratin and not see a lot of difference. To the untrained eye, they may both look like the same dish prepared slightly different.

The Difference in Au Gratin VS Scalloped Potatoes

There is a single ingredient that separates these two dishes, and once you notice, it will be easy to distinguish the two. It’s just cheese- and scalloped potatoes are not supposed to have cheese, traditionally speaking, but au gratin potatoes do. That’s the main difference in scalloped potatoes vs au gratin potatoes, but there are some other minor differences as well in the way they are traditionally prepared.

Scalloped potatoes are cut thick, in most cases, whereas au gratin potatoes are usually cut thin. This makes for a differently textured dish, and the au gratin potatoes will have grated cheese placed between the layers, where scalloped potatoes are not supposed to have any cheese at all.

Potatoes au gratin also tend to have breadcrumbs on top, and scalloped potatoes do not. They are garnished differently, with the au gratin potatoes getting a layer of breadcrumbs and cheese on top, and scalloped potatoes usually garnished with parsley or chives. Anything green and chopped should work, really, as it gives the scalloped potatoes their classic look.

A Big Reason Why They Get Confused

You would think that people would be able to tell the difference between these two dishes and that the confusion could be cleared up easily, but that’s not the case because of a big mistake that gets made with recipes.

Here is where things get even more confusing- sometimes, recipes will call for scalloped potatoes to be topped with cheese and breadcrumbs. Hey, we’re big fans of both of those for casserole toppings, but that is not how this dish is supposed to be made traditionally. You can make scalloped potatoes and then top them however you want, but you might not be able to still call them scalloped potatoes.

So, you have two dishes that are easy to confuse on the surface, and then confusion is added to that when people make up recipes for one or the other and then suggest ingredients and methods that mix up how the dish is supposed to be made.

We think you should be able to prepare your food the way you want it, garnishing it and flavouring it to suit your tastes. There isn’t any issue with that, but you should also realise that changing up the way a dish is traditionally made may actually make it into something else.

The comparison of potatoes au gratin vs scalloped potatoes brings to mind similar confusion over various egg dishes. An omelet can be made into a quiche, and a sunny side up egg can be easily turned into an easy over egg. Each of these are their own distinct dish, but some confusion can happen when you start modifying the recipe to suit your tastes and you end up with a dish that bears a different name.

With all of that being said, let’s look at how to make scalloped potatoes and au gratin potatoes.

How to Make Scalloped Potatoes

Comparing au gratin potatoes vs scalloped, the scalloped ones are probably easier to make.

You start with potatoes cut in thick slices. You can peel the skin off the potato first or not- your choice. Then, layer the potatoes on a baking dish and cover with chopped onions and cream sauce. The sauce is traditionally made from flour, butter, milk, and broth, and you can make your own the same way you would make a roux, with some added broth to make it a bit waterier.

Before you pop your dish in the oven, season the potatoes with parsley, rosemary, thyme, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper or any combination of these.

You can layer the onions and sauce into the potatoes to make it more of a casserole if you like or just pour everything over the potatoes.

How to Make Au Gratin Potatoes

Comparing au gratin potatoes vs scalloped potatoes, we definitely think au gratin potatoes are richer and more of a comfort food.

You’ll make the two dishes similarly, but remember that au gratin potatoes get thin slices compared to scalloped potatoes. You’ll need shredded cheese, cream, butter, and then some seasonings. Traditional au gratin seasonings include salt, pepper, thyme, and cloves.

You start by peeling your potatoes and slicing them thin. Then, pour the cream and butter into your casserole dish. Layer potatoes on top of that and add in some seasonings. Add another layer of cream and then more potatoes. Top with shredded cheese and the rest of your seasonings. Then, you bake it, and you can season it again when it comes out to give it the taste or colour you want.

There is definitely a difference in thickness when you compare scalloped potatoes vs au gratin. Au gratin potato dishes will usually be thicker, due to the cheese, but you can make yours even thicker by filling your layers of potatoes with mashed potatoes. This makes for a more filling dish as well, and it’s a good way to cut down on how much cream you are using. You may want to do this if you prefer to keep the fat content low but still have a thick dish.

We have compared scalloped potatoes vs potatoes au gratin to help you see what sets them apart. We’re not playing favourites though- we love them both.

Written by Pauline

I'm Pauline, a mother of four grown children, my passion for cooking stemmed from the joy i get cooking for my family. I love to try new dishes, especially when dining out but creating and sharing my own recipes is my favourite thing to do!

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