The Problem with The Pioneer Woman’s Scalloped Potato Recipe

This week on Kitchn, we’re battling off the internet’s most popular scalloped potato recipes in search of the absolute best — the one to turn to for potlucks, holidays, and cozy Sunday dinners. In my search to narrow down the final four contenders, Pioneer Woman’s recipe came up time and time again. It has almost 500 comments on her website, and, judging by her photos, it looked promising — what’s not to love about potatoes, cheese, and ham?

Despite being concerned by the lack of detail in the recipe itself, I decided to include it in my scalloped potato showdown. After all, I appreciate a folksy recipe that sounds as friendly and loosey-goosey as advice offered in passing between friends in the grocery aisle. I quickly learned, however, that lack of detail and precision can make for a difficult cooking experience and disappointing outcome. 

Get the recipe: Scalloped Potatoes and Ham from The Pioneer Woman

How I Made the Pioneer Woman’s Scalloped Potato Recipe

After greasing a large casserole dish, I sautéed diced onions in butter in a large skillet, added three cups diced ham, and cooked until it was heated through. I then warmed up a mixture of half-and-half and cream in the microwave and whisked in the recommended amounts of flour and black pepper. I sliced three pounds of potatoes into thin slices, then began layering: I started with potatoes, followed by a spoonful of the ham and onion mixture, a sprinkle of cheese, and one-third of the cream mixture. I repeated this three times, then covered the pan with foil, baked it, uncovered it, and baked until the potatoes were tender.

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My Honest Review of the Pioneer Woman’s Recipe

Despite their homey disposition, well-made scalloped potatoes are worthy of a spot at any dinner party. Good scalloped potatoes have a silky, melt-in-your-mouth texture. When the potatoes and sauce are both well-seasoned and properly cooked, the sauce coats the potatoes and the baked casserole is rich and creamy. After a brief cooling period, a good scalloped potato dish should hold its shape when sliced or scooped.

The Pioneer Woman’s recipe, unfortunately, did not yield these results. The recipe left me with raw potatoes floating in thin, curdled liquid. This dish was also strangely bland, and even after my attempts to save it, I was left with, at best, a sodden ham and cheese casserole. There are better casserole recipes and far better approaches to scalloped potatoes.

The primary problem with the recipe is the baking time. After finding the potatoes were still raw at the suggested baking time, I returned my casserole to the oven for an additional 20 minutes. At this point, the potatoes were tender enough to pierce with a knife, but the liquid was still thin and grainy. After another 10 minutes to bake off some of the liquid, the dish no longer sloshed. I pulled it from the oven and let it rest for 30 minutes, but the curdled liquid never thickened enough to coat the potatoes, or to hold the dish together, so the potatoes wound up slipping and sliding all over the plate. At this point, the ham was also very overcooked.

The other major problem with the recipe was the lack of seasoning. This might be the only potato recipe I’ve ever seen that calls for no salt. The recipe states that “cheese and ham” are salty enough, but even if that were universally true, three pounds of potatoes still needed some salt for sufficient seasoning.

A Few Ways to Improve the Pioneer Woman’s Scalloped Potatoes

Given the number of problems with this recipe, I don’t recommend making these Scalloped Potatoes and Ham. But here are some tips that would have vastly improved the dish, and that you can apply to any scalloped potato recipe.

1. Heat the flour. In this recipe, raw flour is whisked into half-and-half and cream, then microwaved until “no longer cold.” Unfortunately this means the flour never loses its raw flour taste and never reaches thickening potential. Flour whisked into tepid liquid simply cannot replace a proper white sauce or béchamel.

2. Gruyère works far better than cheddar or Monterey Jack. I attribute some of the graininess in this dish to the use of cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese, neither of which melt as well or add enough discernible flavor. Instead, opt for Gruyère which is the more classic choice.

3. Let the dish rest before serving. No matter the recipe, the sauce may look a little thin coming straight out of the oven. Letting it set for a few minutes gives the dish a chance to firm up enough to scoop.

Rating: 1/10

Have you ever made The Pioneer Woman’s Scalloped Potatoes and Ham? Tell us what you thought! 

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