I am always impressed when a customer requests a whole wheel of Raclette, or even a half wheel. These requests are rare when you consider that this cheese is hardly ever sold as just an eating cheese. Raclette cheese’s main function is to be melted and served as the dish called Raclette.
What, then, is Raclette? The name comes from the French verb racler, which means to scrape. The original dish required a fireplace that you could sit next to. The cheese would be placed in a metal device that cradled the cheese. It worked much like that old pot of stew hinged to the fireplace in yesteryear. You would then swing the cheese closer to the heat of the fire and watch it melt. When melted enough, you would scrape the melted part off of the wheel and serve it on a plate with boiled potatoes and cornichon pickles.
There are mainly two types of Raclette cheeses available today, coming from Switzerland and France. They vary slightly in taste, which is mostly due to the age of the cheeses. It would be best to taste each before you buy.
There are many types of cookers available today. The art of actually using a fireplace is becoming a lost one. However, I must say that I just recently sold a wheel to a customer who was going to do just that. Today’s cookers are mostly electric, and there are even small devices that use candles for their heat source. If you choose the latter, I would not be in a hurry to eat. Additionally, these would be more suited for a side dish or an appetizer. You can still purchase cookers that will hold a half wheel or a quarter wheel.
The most popular Raclette cookers I find today are an electric device that you can place right on your dining room table and cook as you go. I sell a lot of them. They are convenient, very functional, and they offer a twist to the original meal. This annoys the traditionalists who prefer only the cheese, potatoes and pickles on the menu. I can appreciate their feelings, much the same way I feel when someone makes a fondue using cheddar cheese. Melting cheddar creates a sauce, not a fondue, right? Hey, whatever works for you is right.
There seems to be no limit as to what you can cook on these new-style grills. Chicken, pork, beef, bacon, shrimp, potatoes, every kind of vegetable, and even eggs, are on the ingredient list. The advanced design and function capabilities of the new cookers allow for this.
The new-era Raclette cookers come with two main functions – a top grill to cook all of those previously mentioned ingredients, and a lower section to melt your cheese. In many respects it reminds me of beef fondue, without the pot of hot, dangerous cooking oil. Very similar to cheese fondue, you can prepare all of the “to be grilled items” in advance, so when meal time comes you can sit and enjoy it along with the others.
These new style cookers are designed for eight people and come with eight individual heating trays to melt your cheese. There is also a four-person cooker available. Even if you are fewer than eight, the extra cooking trays are nice, so you can cook more than one selection at the same time.
I like to cook different meats and vegetables on top. Then when finished, place them in the small pans, top with cheese and melt underneath. You can only imagine how good this is. You can now add additional sauces, in the way you would serve beef fondue, for extra flavor.
Some Do’s and Don’ts
- It is best to lightly oil the grill and heat it for several minutes before cooking.
- Avoid placing herbs directly on the grill as they will stick and burn. Instead, add them to the Raclette dishes.
- Prepare all items before dinner time.
- Be extra careful with raw meats; keep them separate from other foods, including utensils. Use separate utensils for cooking and eating. It would be a good idea to use a different type (or color) utensil, especially for the raw meat items as to avoid confusion. The best solution is to par-cook raw meats, to eliminate the health issue. Then everyone can finish them off to their preference – rare, medium or well done.
- Don’t overload the small pans and do try to keep ingredients level. This will help stop items from burning.
- When preparing cheese, slice in advance if you can, and remove all rinds. You need approximately 5-7 oz of cheese per person for a meal, and much less for an appetizer.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment with your own favorite foods.
- Do try cold white wine or beer with this dish. Sparkling waters are a nice addition to whatever your beverage of choice is.
One of the things I like most about the new Raclette cookers is that they can be used all year long. A summer barbecue gains new appeal when everyone seated at the picnic table is grilling fish, meat, vegetables, etc. to their own liking. Now add the countless number of dipping sauces, oils and herbs available, and you give all-new meaning to the term “cookout.” As with most recipes, Raclette has evolved to accommodate modern tastes.