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Winter has come upon us, even in Japan, and it’s time for hot and hearty food!

Gratins should not be complicated. Restaurants serve them for a good reason. They are easy to prepare and come at a handsome profit the moment you present them in individual portions with a few expensive decorative items. Alright, they certainly look better than in your plate at home, but this is what you pay for!
The key is to be well-organized, so make sure you have everything within hand’s reach!
The recipe below leaves plenty of room for improvisation, even for vegetarians!

Ingredients (for 2~4 people):
-Potatoes: 2, medium-sized, cut in 8
-Cauliflower: a handful of “flowers” cut to size
-Mussles: 1~2 dozens
-Oysters: 12 (without the shells! LOL)
-Crab: a whole, medium-sized, completely dressed (you cannot cook the shell, sorry!), with “miso”/brains on a separate plate. If fresh crab not available, use good quality tinned crab. Strain it carefully first by pressing it in your fist. Water can be used in the white sauce.
-1 large echalotte/shallot, finely chopped. If unavailable use one small violet onion or small sweet onion.
-Garlic: 2 cloves, finely chopped
-Basil: 12 leaves, thinly cut
Noilly Prat or sweet white wine: 50cc (1 quarter cup)
Olive oil
Salt, pepper.

-White sauce:
Milk: 300cc (1 cup and a half)
Butter: 50 g
Flour: 60g (2 full large spoons). This may reduced or increased depending on the consistency you wish to obtain.
Salt, pepper, nutmeg, laurel
Curry paste: 1 spoon (optional. If you like your food spicy, then increase amount)
Finely shredded cheese: to taste

Recipe:

1) Boil cut potatoes and cauliflower beforehand in salted water until “80% cooked”. Strain water and put aside within reach.
2) Wash mussles under cold running water and pull out “roots”. In large deep non-stick frying pan pour about 2 large spoons of olive oil. Heat oil and drop echalotte and garlic inside. As soon as the echalottes (or onion) become transparent, pour in the wine and all the mussles. Cover with glass lid. As soon as the mussles are all open, switch off fire. Take mussles out one by one, shake them over the pan to leave only the meat inside. Take off the meat and leave it inside a small bowl. If they give off “water” in the bowl, throw liquid away.
3) Switch on fire again and keep to medium. Drop oysters inside. Let them cook until they have changed colour. Switch off fire and take them carefully out one by one, and leave them in small bowl. If they give off “water” in the bowl, throw liquid away.
4) Switch on fire again to high and reduce the “soup” left inside the frying pan. Once it has reduced to about 50cc/one quarter cup, strain it into a cup and keep it aside for white sauce.
5) Lightly wipe (do not wash in water!) the frying pan with clean kitchen paper. Drop in some butter. Switch on heat to medium and lightly saute/fry first the cauliflower for a couple of minutes with a little salt and pepper, and put aside. Do the same with potatoes. This will help the vegetables “suck in” the gratin taste.
6) Preheat oven at 180 degrees Celsius (medium high)
7) Drop the butter (50g) into frying pan and let melt. Drop in flour and stir until smooth. Pour in the seafood juices (“soup”) and stir. Once smooth, add milk half by half and keep stirring until it has reached the appropriate consistency. Switch off fire.
First stir in the curry paste, then crab “miso/brains”. Add salt, pepper, nutmeg and laurel to taste. Add crab and basil and stir until you have reached a certain homogeneity.
8) In a large shallow oven dish, place potatoes, cauliflower, mussles and oyters equally (to avoid arguments!). No need to butter the dish beforehand as all ingredients contain enough fat.
Spread white sauce equally over vegetables and seafood. Sprinkle the lot with shredded cheese (the more, the better for those who like their gratin with a dark cheese “topping”!).
Cook in oven for 30 minutes, or until it has reached the appropriate colour (all the ingredients having been cooked, nothing to worry about if you decide to cook it at 250 degrees Celsius to just grill the top).

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Serve hot and enjoy. Of course, you could cook the gratin in individual dishes, but it is so nice to break the whole and serve it steaming onto the plate. Sorry, the pictures do not do justice to the dish, but then if it is looks you are caring about, you could always ask for it at a restaurant! LOL

Small secret: Cook everything in the same large non-stick frying pan. Wipe it, do not wash it! It will give this extra taste!

More recipes with mussles coming soon!