Raclette, the Swiss-Can’t-Miss
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Photo by Judith Hausman
Raclette is a Swiss dish, based on heating cheese and scraping off the melted portion.
Raclette is the quintessential Swiss winter food, simpler even than fondue. I’ve eaten it authentically only once, sitting with friends around an open fireplace. Our host held half a wheel of cheese up to the flames, and when the surface started to melt, he scraped (racler is the verb "to scrape” in French) the softened cheese onto our plates.
As with fondue, purists adhere to tradition with raclette. Boiled potatoes and tiny pickles (cornichons) are the sole accompaniments, and eaters are warned not to fill up on those. It’s all about the cheese; guests like to boast of how many servings they’ve managed to eat. Tepid white wine or hot tea are the only beverages permitted because, according to folklore, others would result in a gut stuffed with a giant cheese ball. It’s a lot of fun.
To be more practical, you can use various tableside contraptions that either heat slices of cheese from underneath or hold a large piece of cheese near a heating element. It keeps me at the stove, but I use a small no-stick pan and watch the slices very carefully, sliding them onto warmed plates to serve. I also cheated this year by serving lightly sautéed red cabbage, onions and apples alongside the raclette. The combination made a perfect Germanic accompaniment for this simple, homey dish.
This winter I found a local (well, regional), artisanal raclette cheese made in Vermont by Southwind Farm. Fresh and authentic, the tangy, well-flavored cheese melted just as it should over the Yukon gold potatoes and homemade pickles I provided. I won’t give you an actual recipe here for the cheese since this is a dish one should just assemble for guests — the more, the merrier. Enjoy a last winter meal with friends before you welcome the asparagus back!
- 1/4 pound, at least, of raclette cheese, per person
- 1 large potato, per person; unpeeled, sliced, boiled and kept warm
- your favorite pickles, but not sweet ones
- a fresh baguette or dark bread
- white wine, such as Chardonnay, or hot tea
Melt the sliced cheese carefully, 4 to 6 quarter-inch slices at a time. Slide the melted cheese onto warmed, individual plates and serve with potatoes, pickles and/or bread, with white wine or hot tea to drink.
RED CABBAGE ON THE SIDE
- red cabbage
- small onion
- large, tart apple
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon caraway seeds and/or dill, optional
Thinly slice one medium head of red cabbage, one small onion and one large, tart apple. Heat oil and butter in a large sauté pan. Add cabbage, onion and apple, and cover, tossing occasionally until the mix is softened but still firm. Add balsamic vinegar near the end of cooking. A tablespoon of caraway seeds and/or dill is optional but delicious.
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