Time: 15 minutes to cook the potatoes, plus as long as you want.
Raclette is a staple of wintertime in Switzerland. If you ask most people which they prefer, fondue or raclette, most will reply raclette. Don’t ask me why — I’ve never understood it. I’m a fondue monster myself, which is not to say that I don’t enjoy a good raclette every now and then.
For those of you who haven’t a clue, perhaps I’d better explain what it is. Raclette is essentially melted cheese, served over boiled potatoes with lots of ground black pepper, accompanied by small pickled onions and gherkins. The name comes from the French verb “racler”, to scrape, because of the way the melted cheese is scraped off the block.
Like everything with a strong tradition, there are lots of very strict dos and don’ts, which don’t actually matter that much. After you’ve had it a couple of times you’ll get to know what you like and what you don’t.
This is not so much a recipe as a description, because there’s really nothing to it. Although, having said that, if you don’t have the right equipment or ingredients, I’m afraid I can’t be held responsible for the consequences.
You’ll need a raclette machine of some description. They come in approximately two varieties which are impossible to describe, so here’s a couple of pictures, courtesy of http://www.raclette-suisse.ch/.
There’s the heavy-duty kind which requires a permanent operator to adjust the height of the cheese, monitor the heat and scrape it off when sufficiently melted.
Once you have one of those, and the following ingredients, just invite some friends round and you’re all set.
- 200 to 250g raclette cheese per person (in rectangular blocks for the first machine, or half-wheels for the second)
- small firm potatoes (in Switzerland we use Bintje, Charlotte and the aptly named Raclette varieties)
- small gherkins and pickled onions
- a selection of dried meats, prosciutto, parma ham etc.
- (optional) sliced peppers, tomato, onion, mushrooms
- paprika and fresh black pepper
This method is only for use with the second type of machine. With the heavy-duty Real McCoy jobby I advise you to read the instructions to get the general gist of the occasion, then play it by ear. As for a barbecue, one person has to sit like Tiny Tim in the corner, tending the cookery devices and missing out on all the fun.
- Boil the potatoes in their skins until they’re done.
- Set the table with your meats, pickles, vegetables and cheese, the latter cut into thickish slices (too thick for a sandwich).
- Put the potatoes on the table in their pan, covered, to keep warm while the cheese is cooking.
- Each diner takes a slice of cheese and pops it into his/her individual cheese tray, tops it with a slice of tomato or other vegetable if he/she so desires and slides it under the grill. This is a good time to eat a few slices of ham and some gherkins. When the cheese is bubbling convincingly and going brown around the edges, remove the tray from under the grill, scrape the contents with a small wooden spatula on top of the potato which you have just placed on your plate, sprinkle with pepper and paprika, and eat. As it can take five minutes or so for each slice of cheese to cook, particularly before the grill has warmed up properly, it’s a good idea to put a new slice of cheese in as soon as you’ve scraped the last one onto your potato. That way you can keep ’em coming.
And to finish off, here’s the last word on “Real Raclette”, taken from Sue Style’s book A Taste of Switzerland:
Light a good fire. Buy yourself a half wheel of real Raclette cheese, preferably from the Valais (Gomser, Bagnes, Orsières etc.), between three and five months old. Scrape off the rind, top and bottom, so that the cheese can melt more easily. Prepare boiled potatoes in their skins and have ready a supply of gherkins or cornichons, pickled onions and black pepper. When the fire has died to a mass of glowing embers, procure yourself a large stone and put it before the fire. Set the half cheese on top, its cut surface exposed to the heat. Nearby have a supply of plates. As the cheese melts, scrape it off on to a plate and serve at once. Continue in this way until everyone is full.