What Is Raclette?
Raclette was the gooey centerpiece of one of the coolest parties I've ever been to, a cheese-centric feast with origins in the Swiss Alps. While it's not as well known as its cousin, fondue, its popularity is spreading across the globe.
What Is Raclette?
Raclette isn't just a cheese, it's an experience. At the heart of the raclette ride is the semi-hard mountain cheese that turns molten when tucked under a heating element for a few minutes. For that you need a raclette grill, a special table-top grill that is essentially like a mini broiler. The raclette grill comes with individual raclette pans, so that each person can melt their own slices of raclette cheese to their liking.
What To Serve With Raclette
Hosting a raclette dinner party could not be easier. The beauty is that raclette is a DIY project for your dinner guests. After slicing the cheese and bites that complement, hosts serve up instructions, inviting everyone to be as creative as they like. Here is what to serve with raclette for the ultimate raclette party:
Plan on around a 8 ounces of raclette cheese per person. Raclette cheese is typically available only during winter months, and is typically made with cow's milk, though you can find goat's and sheep's milk varieties. There are also smoked versions. The cheese should be cut into thin slices that will fit in the raclette grill pans. You will often find raclette cheese pre-sliced, as seen at Trader Joe's, making your raclette party prep that much easier!
Serve freshly boiled baby potatoes whole, peel in tact, letting guests slice them in half or roughly mash them, making for a perfect landing surface for the bubbly, hot cheese. Make sure to make 1/3 to 1/2 pound of potatoes per person.
Slice baguette or any good rustic bread, then serve in bread baskets on the table.
Cornichons are the traditional choice for a Swiss raclette affair, as well as pickled onions. If you can't find cornichons, you can also go for dill pickles or naturally fermented sour pickles. All offer a bright counterpoint to the rich cheese.
Ham, salami, and other cured meats marry well with cheese. In Switzerland, a special dried beef called viande séchée is commonly served with raclette. A great substitute that is easier to find stateside is the Italian bresaola.
Salt and pepper
You'll want a salt and pepper mill at the table so that everyone can top their melty cheese with as much seasoning as they'd like.
While the above accoutrements are the main additions to a traditional raclette feast, you can also choose to offer a variety of unique sides, such as sliced apples, sun-dried tomatoes, walnuts, roasted garlic, and sliced mushrooms.
Tips for Making Raclette
Before the party starts, set your table with the raclette grill in the center so that everyone can easily reach it while seated. Note that since the grill plugs into an electrical outlet, you may need an extension cord — check this well before your party starts so that you aren't scrambling at the last minute!
Small salad-sized plates are common for serving raclette, though you can opt to give everyone a dinner plate, as well. Each place setting should also get a fork, knife, and raclette spatula, which are small wooden spatulas that come with the raclette grill.
After assembling all the ingredients and before everyone sits down to start, a few tips to share:
- Don't overload the raclette pan
There's nothing worse than catching your cheese on fire when it hits the heating element.
- Take your time
This isn't a race to finish everything on the table. Relax and take your time. Raclette parties can last for hours.
If you're going to use the flat-top grill surface to warm meats or bread, be sure and have proper ventilation or smoke might get in your eyes.
- Keep your eye on the prize
When the grill's red hot, cheese melts quickly, in 2 minutes or less.
- Don't forget the libations
Wine, beer, and hard cider make excellent partners for this spread, but you'll know you're in a European's presence if they pour shots of kirsch or schnapps toward the end of the evening. It's been said that alcohol will give you a second wind so you can hit the raclette grill one last time.
- Try this recipe
This recipe for Oven Raclette is great for a crowd — using small cast iron or nonstick skillets makes it easy. You'll warm individual cheese portions in 3 1/2-inch cast iron skillets. Serve with roasted winter root vegetables, crusty bread, and cornichons. Tip: Tie a towel around the handle of each skillet to warn guests they're hot.
Do You Need A Raclette Grill?
Essential for serving raclette is a raclette grill. A raclette grill is a small electric grill that you place in the middle of the table, allowing guests to heat their own cheese. You can find affordable raclette grills on Amazon for less than $50.
Most raclette grills have eight pans arranged on a rectangle-shaped surface, but there's also a circle-shaped model with six pans that's ideal for round tables. While it's ideal for every guest to have their own pan, if you need to squeeze a few more, ask couples to buddy up and share, or do some matchmaking!
If you don't have a raclette grill, you can still enjoy a raclette-like experience. There is a work around: At Le Pichet in Seattle, the kitchen prepares raclette in cast iron skillets, warming it in a 400-degree oven for a few minutes, until it starts bubbling. The hot pan is placed on a trivet in the middle of the table, and diners scoop it onto the traditional accompaniments, pictured below.