Monday 12 March 2012

Classic French recipe #1 : Raclette

This blogpost is the direct result of a discussion with Jo from Given To Distracting Others on twitter! Knowing that she is an absolute cheese-fiend, I mentioned to her that we'd had Raclette for lunch which started off a long and complicated discussion of what is an absolutely simple dish ! So in honour of Jo and her cheese fetish (!), here is an explanation of not just Raclette but also Pierrade, two dishes that go together (but not at the same time !) because, not only are they the dinner party staples when you don't want to cook, they also often use the same appliance. (Edit : This ended up being a more detailed post than I first imagined so I'll save my explanation of Pierrade for a separate post !)

OK, back to basics. Raclette is a type of semi-firm, cow's milk cheese that becomes incredibly smooth, creamy and elastic when it melts. It's made in big wheels but you buy it in long strips from the cheese shop, or long strips that have been cut into three or four (as above) prepacked in French supermarkets.

The next thing to buy is a selection of cooked and cured meats. You can buy specially prepared raclette assortments in any delicatessen, usually containing the standard meats shown above : jambon blanc (normal cooked ham), jambon cru (cured ham),  viande de Grison (thin slices of air-dried beef), bacon (nothing like the bacon you know in England - it's the round cured meat at the bottom, like dry smoked ham), coppa, pancetta and rosette (almost like salami, studded with pieces of white fat).

You can also buy special selections of cured meats specially put together for Raclette in any French supermarket.

Now, on to the fun part. Pretty much every home in France owns one of these - a Raclette grill. It usually has six little paddles so six people can eat at once - any more than that and you just ask one of the guests to bring along their "appareil à raclette" with them when they come to eat, which is something we do quite often here at The Madhouse !

When plugged in, the grill element under the top part heats up. You put your cheese in the little tray, pop it under the heat and wait for it to melt and go bubbly. Then you pour the melted cheese over the boiled potatoes and cured meats that you've got on your plate. Alternatively, you can pile up your tray with potatoes and meat as well as cheese so it all heats up, but don't put too much on or it won't fit ! The top part is also handy for keeping the unpeeled boiled potatoes hot. (The top also often doubles up for Pierrade, which I'll tell you about another day, and/or for making crêpes, French pancakes.)

If you go to a Savoyard restaurant, specialising in the cheesy dishes you'll find in all the ski stations in France and Switzerland, you're more likely to see this kind of raclette machine. I always think it looks like a sun lamp for cheese ! You have a whole half or quarter of Raclette cheese held on a couple of prongs and you stand a grill next to it so that the outer layer of cheese heats up and melts. Then you scrape it off on to your plate, as above. The word "racler" means scrape in French, which is where the name comes from.

It's packed with calories and you'll end up with a room smelling of burnt cheese but nevertheless delicious and a dish you'll be bound to eat at least once or twice every winter in any French home.

If you want to try this in England and haven't got a machine, you can put a chopped boiled potato, sprinkled with pieces of ham and cured meats, lay a slice or two of raclette cheese (or at a pinch cheddar) on top and place under the grill or even in the microwave. It'll give you a vague idea of the real dish. Serve with tomatoes and cornichons (baby gherkins). Don't stand your wine/water glasses too close to the machine or they'll get hot too !

I've just looked and you can buy Raclette grills on the UK amazon site actually ! Feel free to buy them via my links below and I'll earn a few pennies in commission - and Amazon will wonder why there's a sudden demande for Raclette grills !!

Bon appétit !

Other blogposts you may be interested in :


  1. I love cheese, this sounds gorgeous!

  2. Oo cheese fiend here to drool. I want to do this only all six paddles would be mine.
    Cheese and potatoes....I would be at every dinner party in France and the size of a gite!!!

  3. Cheryl thanks for all the French delights! I had forgotten about raclette! Lovely. Cheers


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