Recently, thanks to my good friend, Theri Davis, I discovered Raclette, a Swiss dining tradition that has already become an institution in our home. Similar to fondue, Raclette celebrates cheese, melted until bubbly and browned, and served traditionally with potatoes and gherkins. At our house we serve it with a myriad of other accompaniments as well.
Raclette was once enjoyed by peasants and cow hearders in Switzerland and the Savoy region of France. In the evening they would heat a wheel of raclette cheese near the fire. Once the cheese was melted to the ideal softness, it was scraped off and served over bread. In fact, the word Raclette comes from the French term, racler, which means "to scrape".Today the cheese is heated on a special small appliance called a Raclette grill. The grill is set in the center of the table and features a grill surface on top and broiler underneath. Each guest is provided a small tray that fits under the broiler with which to heat their cheese, as well as a small spatula to remove their cheese from the tray with. I recently purchased matching Swissmar brand tongs as well. This way each guest has their own personal set of tongs to grill with.
Raclette is a brilliant dinner party concept for so many reasons. Foremost for me, as the host, I **love** the fact that the entire meal can be prepped in advance. There is no real preparation on my part once guests arrive, aside from placing the prepared foods on the table and pouring drinks. Because of this, the added task of baking breads from scratch for the party seems like child's play. It is fun to welcome guests to the house with the scent of fresh baked bread.
Normally a lengthy meal that can last well into night as the guests prepare their own foods and laugh and talk and drink, it is best enjoyed on a Friday or Saturday evening. Raclette is a fantastic icebreaker meal and while it is fun for old friends to enjoy, it works equally well for a group of people who aren't so familiar with each other. Conversation comes naturally as everyone takes part in the cooking process together. Not to mention that it is a meal that accommodates all people with all appetites. Guests who are vegetarian, gluten free, picky eaters and the like can all find something to enjoy during a meal of Raclette. Even dairy free diners can make a meal out of all of the delicious breads and things to grill.
Recently my proposal for a Raclette and Chocolate Fondue party was accepted to the Foodbuzz, 24X24 event. An event showcasing 24 unique meals being hosted by Foodbuzz Featured Publishers around the globe during a 24 hour period of time. I was honored to bring together family and friends to share this unique meal with them. In preparation for the meal I put together a shopping list that I would like to share with you.
Raclette for Eight-Ten
note: I always have a lot of leftover food, but without knowing what people will enjoy cooking and eating the most, I prefer to air on the side of caution and have too much. These ingredients can easily be re-purposed into other meals throughout the week.
4lb Raclette cheese or Emmentaler
1/4 lb smoked blue cheese
1/2 lb spicy chipotle cheddar cheese
note: if you can not find raclette cheese, look for emmentaler or swiss. These cheeses melt nicely without producing much grease. I enjoy offering up some additional varieties to use as an addition to the raclette cheese to enhance flavor.
5 lb grass-fed top round of beef
note: you want a cut of beef that has some fat but isn't too fatty. Explain to your butcher what you are doing and explain that you would like a cut that is good both under and overcooked. Ask what he/she recommends. Venison or other game meats can also be fun conversation starters.
4 lb Sausages
note: I have the privilege of living near a Whole Foods with a vast assortment of house made sausages that I can buy individually. If you do not have this option, try to get at least two meat variations, such as pork and chicken. I typically avoid anything too spicy so it does not leave it's residue on the grill which other non-heat lovers may not enjoy.
5 lb 31-40ct raw, deveined shrimp (the count refers to the number of shrimp per pound, the lower the number, the larger the shrimp)
1 1/2 lb smoked chicken
1 bundle asparagus
5 lb organic fingerling potatoes
assortment of cherry and pear heirloom tomatoes
4-6 yellow summer squash
2 lb mushrooms, small portobello or sliced large portobello are great
3 lb onion or 2 lb pearl onions
1 jar gherkins
note: these are traditional eaten with Raclette, I also like to introduce my homemade pickled green tomatoes.
note: I like to offer several options, such as a seedy brown bread, and baguette for example.
note: this list is a great shopping list with which to start from. You may think of other things that you would also enjoy with Raclette.
note: To avoid incessant passing of foods, I try to present several bowls or plates of each item, so ingredients only need be passed three or four people.
The Raclette cheese should be cut into 2-3oz portions, smaller for any garnish cheeses that you may have purchased.
Beef should be sliced thinly 1/4-1/2 of an inch depending upon the cut and arranged on a plate and refrigerated, covered with plastic wrap.
Sausages should be boiled until cooked and sliced in round "coins". Par-freeze the cooked sausage prior to cutting for beautiful slices. Arrange them on a plate (chicken separate from pork), cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Shrimp should be defrosted and deveined (if you did not purchase them this way)
Potatoes and asparagus should be blanched. This will allow them to have a cooking time more even with the rest of the ingredients.
Heirloom tomatoes should be cut in halves
Zucchini and summer squash should be cut into 1/2-3/4 inch thick round medallions
Mushrooms can be cut in halves or if large portobellos, into slices.
Onions can be cut into 1/8 wedges. Pearl onions are great skewered on bamboo or wooden skewers. They also add an element of interest to the grill.
Gherkins can be served poured with some of the brine into a small serving bowl.
Bread can be sliced. If it is a wide loaf, it should also be cut in half to make for slices smaller then a dollar bill. You can optionally conservatively butter one side of the bread before arranging on a plate. This will result in more browned bread when grilled but isn't necessary.
Setting the Table
Preparing the table for Raclette is supremely important. I prefer to do this in advance of the party, when I have time on my hands to make for a stress free party. I like to use a "busy" table cloth. Guests will be preparing their own food and some will be tidier than others. A busy tablecloth will hide any messes and keep the table looking spiffy through desert. Each place setting should include, fork, knife, appetizer or sandwich sized plate (larger is just unnecessary and will over crowd the table), Raclette Tray, Raclette Spatula, Raclette Tongs and napkin. I also pre-set wine glasses and water is set out close to meal-time. Another essential tabletop item is salt and pepper. I do not pre-season anything, but rather allow my guests to do this themselves. I find that little dishes of various salts and garlic powder as well as a few pepper mills are essential. I am a salt lover with a whole cupboard full of options, so Raclette is a great time to showcase some of my collection. Also the variety of salts is yet another great icebreaker for your guests. Another great item to have is a oil mister like this. You can fill it with your choice of oil and it is hand pumped to provide air pressure. A selection of these could be a fun way to introduce some new oils to your guests! Keep in mind that you may want to consider oils with a higher burning temp such as grape seed if you are in an enclosed space with little option for ventilation. I have never had my grill get so hot that the oil would scald... however one overzealous guest is all it might take.
Finally, I like to jazz up my table with an assortment of tall taper candles and strategically placed votives (placed out of the way or eager hands reaching for the grill). I also set out several additional sets of tongs to be used for meats. Raclette grills are electric, so it is best to run the electrical wires and fit to an outlet in advance. I find this always involves an extension cord.
Despite the fact that a traditional Raclette grill will service 8 people, I find that the grilling surface and reach-ability when you have put sufficient leaves in your table for 8 people and a host of ingredients, is uncomfortable. I recently acquired a second grill and think that this will be far more ideal for 8. Not to mention that each guest could be provided with two cheese trays. I like to place my bread on one tray underneath while my cheese bubbles in another tray beside it. Having the bread toast underneath frees up grill space.
I like to keep overhead lighting as low as possible while still allowing guests to see both the ingredients and each other. This will provide for a nice ambiance. Speaking of ambiance, we haven't talked tunes yet! I like to keep it lively and at this party played a mixed play-list of the following (if you haven't listened to all of these artists... you really really should)
It's not a party Without Drinks!
Seriously, you are certainly now getting the idea behind Raclette. Because it is so easy for the host to prepare, you can find more time to dazzle guests with unique beverages. While I usually focus on beer and wine, I introduced a Bloody Mary to this party that was certainly a hit. The tomato, garlic and celery flavors of my Bloody Mary accompanied the toasty cheese and grilled meats perfectly. I am looking forward to diving back into some of my old mixology books from my bartending days for future parties. Some wines that I would highly recommend to accompany your Raclette are:
Ferrarri-Carano Chardonnay est 32.00
No party is complete without dessert!
In the interest of keeping with the Swiss tradition, I served a dark chocolate fondue for dessert with Pizzelle, traditional Italian almond waffle cookies, marshmallows, strawberries, banana, pretzel rods, and madeleines. Our Raclette dinner went until late into the evening so dessert was served soon after the plates were cleared, however it would be fun to play a board game or a few hands of poker in between. Dessert was served with a selection of liqueurs including Frangelico, Disaronno Amaretto, and Grand Marnier.
I hope that I was able to introduce you to a dining tradition that you find both facinating and appealing. If you do not have a Raclette grill, this is the perfect time to bump one up to the top of your Christmas list! The parties are amazing, and enjoying the leftovers with my husband in front of the fire over a good movie the following night are nearly just as good. I would love to hear from you about your adventures with Raclette! If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to inquire.