One of my favorite things about becoming a better home cook is revisiting classic recipes that I can put a new, homemade spin on.
This Cheesy Potato Casserole is an update on a very classic casserole. The old school version is a creamy dish of pure comfort food. I kept the flavors but ditched the canned soup for a homemade sauce! The result is a baking dish full of deliciousness that can be the main focus of a dinner plate served with a side salad or grilled protein.
I was pretty concerned that my kids wouldn’t touch this casserole — my five-year-old hates cheese. It’s a real struggle and probably his biggest character flaw to date. But, he legit doesn’t like cheese and has been holding strong on this belief for over a year now. Be sure to check out the Report Card below to see if I was right!
Updating classic recipes is so fun and it turns out there is a reason certain recipes are so popular. It’s because they are REALLY good.
THE CLASSIC POTATO CASSEROLE
Potato Casseroles like this go by many names – cheesy potatoes, hash brown casserole, Mormon Potatoes, and even Funeral Potatoes.
One thing unites all versions of classic potato casserole — they typically rely heavily on canned soups as a sauce base. While there is nothing wrong with canned soups, I wanted to make the sauce a bit cheesier and creamier by making a homemade mornay sauce (béchamel but with cheese).
Don’t worry. It sounds fancy, but it’s super easy!
HOW TO MAKE CHEESE SAUCE
This cheese sauce starts, like so many delicious things, with butter and onion and garlic:
- Cook the onions in the butter for a few minutes until they are translucent but not browned.
- Then add the minced garlic and cook for a few seconds.
- Whisk in the flour and cook it for a minute or two, and slowly whisk in the stock. The sauce will thicken as it simmers into a light gravy consistency.
- Once the sauce thickens, it’s time to add the grated cheese and season with salt and pepper. Remove the sauce from the heat at this point and it’s ready to use in the casserole recipe.
WHAT’S BETTER: FRESH OR FROZEN HASH BROWNS?
While I like making my own sauce for this casserole, I prefer using frozen hash browns over fresh. They are a consistent product and easy to use. Plus, frozen hash browns are par-cooked so there is little risk that you will end up with uncooked potato in the center of your casserole.
While you could use fresh potatoes for this casserole, I don’t think it adds much. You have to make sure to grate and dry the potatoes well and bake the casserole until the potatoes are cooked through. This might take much longer than the 50 minute cook time in the recipe, so you will have to test the potatoes occasionally until they are cooked.
SUGGESTIONS AND SUBSTITUTIONS
I think this casserole is really good as-is, so I would keep add-ins to a minimum. A little pinch of chili powder or something similar would be okay, but I would avoid adding proteins or vegetables to the casserole. It would mess with the consistency of the potatoes.
Make-Ahead and Storing Instructions
This casserole reheats absolutely beautifully, which is why it’s such a popular bring-along dish.
- To make this cheesy potato casserole ahead of time: Assemble the casserole, cover it, and store in the fridge for up to two days, then bake as instructed.
- You can also, bake the entire casserole. Let it cool, cover it and keep it in the fridge for up to four days. When ready to reheat it, just follow the baking instructions as if you’d just mixed it together. It might need an extra 10 minutes in the oven to take off the chill.
- You can also freeze this casserole! I recommend freezing it after baking it so the casserole is cooked and you just have to reheat it from a frozen state. It will keep in the freezer for three to six months, and you should reheat it in a 350˚F oven until it’s warmed through.
The DAD ADD
Fried Serrano Rings. I thought this recipe needed a little spice to cut through the richness of the dish. This is not a kid-friendly Dad Add, but these tiny little fried serrano rings are a great topper to recipes like this.
My son got a look of utter terror across his face. “Wait… Does this have CHEESE in it?!!” I did get him to try a bite of the casserole, but, alas, “It tastes like cheese.”
But assuming your child has not developed a strange anti-cheese mantra, this recipe is generally very kid-friendly, and most kids will gobble it down.
MORE CASSEROLE RECIPES TO ENJOY!
Cheesy Potato Casserole Recipe
- 1/4 cup butter, plus more for the casserole dish
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
- 2 cups grated cheddar cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 30 ounces frozen hash browns
DAD ADD: Fried Serrano Rings:
- 3 serranos, sliced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Coarse salt
1 Preheat the oven and prepare the casserole dish: Preheat oven to 400˚F. Lightly butter or grease a 9x13 baking dish.
2 Make the cheese sauce: In a medium pot, melt 1/4 cup butter over medium heat. Add diced onion and cook for 3-4 minutes until onions turn translucent but not browned. Then add minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds.
Stir in flour and continue to cook for a minute or two until the flour turns a tan color. Slowly whisk in stock and bring sauce to a slight simmer. The sauce will thicken as it heats. Once the sauce is thick like gravy, stir in the cheddar cheese and season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.
3 Combine the potatoes and the sauce: In a large bowl add the frozen hash browns and pour the sauce over the hash browns. Stir together well to combine and transfer to the prepared baking dish. Smooth the top.
4 Bake the casserole: Place the casserole in the center rack of your oven and bake for 45 minutes at 400˚F. Then turn on the broiler and broil for 5 minutes on high to crisp up the top of the casserole. If your casserole dish is not broiler-safe, then turn the oven up to 500˚F and bake for 3 more minutes.
5 Serve: Let the casserole cool slightly but serve while warm.
6 Make the Crispy Serrano Rings (Optional DAD ADD): Slice serrano peppers into thin coins. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a small skillet. Once it is hot, add serrano coins and cook for 2-3 minutes until they start to brown. Remove the coins from the skillet and let drain on a paper towel. Season with a pinch of salt.
Leftovers keep in the fridge for 5 days. Reheat in the microwave until warmed through.
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