Morbiflette (French Mountain Potato Gratin)

A couple of years ago, on a trip to France, we ended up poking around a Christmas market in Dijon. It was lunchtime and we were staring at a giant skillet (a poêle, linguistically related to paella) with potatoes and onions and bacon and cheese, all being stirred by strapping French country men. It was love at first sight. Chunks of Morbier cheese with its signature dark vein running through the center were on display, being tossed in as the cooks saw fit. We got a portion and split it. That was dumb; should’ve each gotten our own. After cross referencing multiple recipes, we FINALLY hit on a good reproduction.

The method is based on that of tartiflette, a potato dish developed in the 80s to promote Reblochon cheese. Reblochon is a much softer, brie-like cheese, as opposed Morbier, which you can slice. The firmer texture of Morbier is why I’ve upped the crème fraîche; runnier Reblochon made for a creamier finished product.

A note: you guys, it is SO EASY to mess up a gratin. Believe it or not, a pile of cheese and starch will be sad and bland if you don’t do the detail work. Think “eh, I don’t need to boil the potatoes, they’re going in the oven,” or “ew, I don’t want to cook the onions in bacon grease! I’ll use olive oil instead,” and you will ruin all your hard work. The potatoes need to be boiled in salted water or they’ll be gummy and bland. The onions need the bacon grease because of the smoky saltiness it imparts. The salt levels need to be checked and adjusted throughout the process to keep the flavors balanced. If you’re worried about this not being healthy, make something else. Cutting corners on this dish will render it inedible. A salad with a tart vinaigrette is the perfect accompaniment.

1 k or 2.2 lbs large waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into halves or thirds
2/3 t salt
200 g or 1/2 lb bacon
2 large onions, sliced into ribbons
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
100 mL or 1/2 c white wine (we forgot this, so we drank it with)
1/2 t dried thyme
75 g or 1/3 c crème fraîche
3 T heavy cream (forgot this too, but the texture would benefit)
300 g or 2/3 lb Morbier cheese, rind trimmed and sliced thickly (1/2 cm or 1/4 in)

In a large pot, cover the potatoes with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, add salt, stir and lower heat to a steady simmer. Cook potatoes for 15-20 minutes, or until easily pierced with a sharp knife. Drain potatoes and set aside to cool. Do not rinse potatoes!

Heat a large skillet to medium high and cook the bacon until browned and crispy. Set on paper-towel lined plate to cool. Turn heat down to medium and add onions to the skillet to cook in the bacon drippings (if there are a lot of drippings, remove all but 2 T and set aside to add in case pan starts to look dry). Cook until softened and starting to caramelize, stirring only occasionally. Add a pinch or two of salt if needed (onions shouldn’t taste salty, just very oniony) and chopped garlic for last 2-3 minutes of cooking. Remove onions to deep bowl.

Preheat oven to 220° C or 425° F. Lightly but thoroughly butter a medium to medium-large baking dish (several individual deep crocks would also be great for a crowd). Chop cooled bacon into bits and add to onions. Add thyme, crème fraîche and cream to onion mixture and stir until well distributed. Slice cooled potatoes into generous 1/2 cm or 1/4 in pieces.

Layer half of potatoes on bottom of buttered dish, using broken bits to fill in gaps. Top with half of onion mixture, spread evenly. Top onions with half of Morbier slices (try to leave small margin around sides of pan). Repeat sequence until all ingredients used up.

Put pan in oven and lower heat to 200° C or 400° F. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until top is browned and bubbly. Let sit for 5-10 minutes before slicing.

Sara & Luke’s Visit

There was a whole potato on that stick five minutes before I snapped these pictures. I hope this wasn’t the best part of Sara and Luke’s visit to our town/region, but then again, she seemed pretty happy with that potato, so maybe it’s not such a bad thing. Or maybe the comfort-food aspect made all the trials and tribulations of the travel over here seem survivable.

Weather at the first stop on their flight itinerary prevented them from taking off on the day of departure — but only after having spent seven hours in the plane waiting for clearance and runway traffic jams to clear up. 350 flights were cancelled that evening, but Sara and Luke were lucky to have relatives in the area with whom they could spend the night and try again the next day. The next day, they did manage to get on a flight, but it too was delayed for three hours, risking a missed connection in London on their way to Munich (final destination for the first leg of their trip to Europe).

When they finally stepped through the immigration security barrier at Terminal Two in Munich, they were exhausted and dismayed to find they would be wearing the clothes they came in for at least a few more days — somewhere between their last stop in the U.S. and their arrival in Munich both of their bags got lost. Or at least delayed.

In the end, both of their bags were finally delivered to our apartment in Regensburg, but we were never sure when that would be. Sara and Luke called the airline(s) every day trying to get an estimate of when their bags would show up, because waiting around here for them was not part of the plan. So we ended spending a lot more time in Regensburg, waiting for the magical phone call with their luggage drop-off window, hanging out at the Bürgerfest. Which, by the way, was a lot of fun this year despite the weather. It was nice to see Tammy and Sarah cut loose in front of a ska-punk band shell down by the Weenie Shack.*

Maybe that downtime was for the best, since they had a very heavy itinerary — two stops in Spain and a few days in London — after their short visit to Regensburg. We sure enjoyed having them.

1. Schwabinger Kartoffelhaus

The Joint

Hohenzollernplatz 4
80796 München-Schwabing
Phone: +49 89 – 30 36 77 Fax: +49 89 – 29 65 40


We liked the Kartoffelhaus back when it was still located off of Marienplatz. But having a Bayern-Ticket means its location just a bit more removed from “downtown” Munich is also no big deal. I had the Strapacska (a skillet of potato spätzle with sour cream, feta cheese, and bacon chunks), which was excellent as usual. Sarah and I continually fight over which of us will get to order this dish (we hate to both get the same thing).


I’m glad this is documented. Next time we go (and there’s always a next time), I get the Strapacska next time.

If you like potatoes, there is something here for you. Potatoes in every possible permutation. Always yummy.