Friday, January 20, 2012
Raclette is kind of like fondue's poor stepchild. Where fondue caught on in America to the point where virtually everyone has a fondue set of some kind buried in their closet, raclette seemed relegated to the "what's this?" category of strange appliances married to obscure dining methods.
It's a bit more complicated than than spearing some food with a funny-looking fork and immersing it in bubbling cheese or boiling oil. You need to steam some vegetables beforehand. Then you should have some sliced cheese, typically (no surprise here) Raclette. From France.
Raclette is one of those cheeses that's a bit fragrant, but very mild. It melts perfectly and its taste marries well with steamed vegetables. It used to be available at Trader Joe's, but as with all things from that market, you never know how long they'll be available. The more expensive cheese shops should have the stuff, too - or at least an acceptable substitute. Something earthy, a bit stinky. In a pinch you could use cheddar or Gruyere, but this would not be the rockin' taste of raclette.
We used Yukon Gold potatoes, kohlrabi and broccoli. I'm not wild about the broccoli, since the kohlrabi has a similar flavor and has the added advantage of faking people into thinking they're going to eat another piece of potato. I think turnips, potatoes, kohlrabi, sunchokes and maybe parsnips would be interesting to try, all steamed ahead of time. Cauliflower and broccoli work, too. Brussels sprouts would probably be worth a try, and maybe even Chinese broccoli or bok choy.
After that, things are simple. Take a slice of cheese and place it in the tray, then place the little tray under the top tray of the raclette machine. Nothing happening? Oh. Yeah, you have to plug the thing in and let it heat up.
Once your cheese is hot and bubbly, take out the little tray and dump the cheese on your vegetables, or on some ham or even some salami (saucisson, actually). Place another slice of cheese in the little tray and repeat the process.
Drink something appropriate, like a dry rosé, a Riesling, a Vin Gris d'Alsace, un Sylvaner...
So, that's it. Simple, easy, and virtually unknown here in the United States. We got our raclette machine in a close-out for half price. Our friends, who also lived in Europe, found theirs sitting dust-covered on a top shelf in a crowded cooking shop, where it had apparently lived for years. They, too got a good discount on their machine.
So, if you come across a dust-covered raclette machine while rummaging in a store, or perhaps receive one from an eccentric European friend or relative, you're now ready to invite some friends, fire the thing up and enjoy a simple meal.