Let’s Make Raclette

[The Amateur Gourmet is on vacation and, while he’s gone, he’s asked his friends to cover for him. You remember Adam’s friend John Kaslauskas as the friend he went to Paris with three years ago. John had such a fantastic time that now he’s living in Europe for three months, where he’s eating, marathon training and writing screenplays. Right now he’s in Geneva, staying with his brother, sister-in-law and nephew. In this post, John’s Nephew, Nico, teaches him all about raclette–a traditional Swiss dish.]

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When Adam asked me to do a guest blog about some of my food adventures in Europe, I immediately jumped at the chance. As if I needed a reason to go to an amazing Swiss restaurant or spend a weekend at a vineyard sampling local wines. I didn’t. Hearing me talk about possible food adventures, my 7-year old nephew Nicolas perked up and said, “If you want to eat some really good food, I can make you something!” I asked him what he’d make and he shrugged: “I could make Blue Cheese mashed potatoes. They’re really good.” I told him that I needed to eat something a little more…well, Swiss. Unfazed, he said, “I’ve lived in Geneva for almost my whole life. I can make you something Swiss, if you want. Maybe Raclette?” I asked what raclette was and he said, “Basically, it’s just cheese on potatoes. “ “So it’s sort of like fondue?” I asked. “It’s a bit better than fondue,” Nico explained, “I think fondue tastes like wine. I’ll make you a really good raclette, Uncle John. You’ll like it,” he promises. Raclette it is.

So Raclette, it turns out, is both a type of cheese and a dish, popular in the French-speaking part of Switzerland near the Alps (where we were). The cheese comes from cows and is made primarily in the Valais canton of Switzerland. The dish “raclette” is typically served at restaurants tableside by scraping melting raclette cheese off of a huge cheese wheel onto boiled or roasted potatoes. Like this:

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Only it’s not really the season for Raclette. It’s a hearty meal and best enjoyed after a really cold day skiing in the Swiss Alps. But it’s August. And my nephew wants to make it. But, it’s right up there with fondue, clocks and chocolate as something the Swiss are known for, so I was game.

Nicolas first took me to the local grocery story where we pick up pre-sliced raclette cheese (plain and also some with peppercorn and others with garlic) as well as some viande sechee (literally “dried meat”), new potatoes, Cornichons (gherkin pickles) and picked onions. Here’s Nico showing me what cheese to get (if only his crocs were Mario Batali-inspired orange!):

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And here is a close-up of what we got:

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Back at home, we started a pot of boiling water for the potatoes. Nico’s mom, Joanne, despite being 38 weeks pregnant, was supervising the whole process and wasn’t too keen on the idea of letting her son drop things into boiling water – especially in front of an unseen Internet audience. Ever enterprising, Nicolas offered a compromise: he would use a ladle to gently place the potatoes in the pot. Like this:

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Nico said, “Safety first, Uncle John!” While those boiled away we set the table with a Raclette grill and all the sides we had just bought. It looked like this:

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Nicolas saw me taking a picture and said, “WAIT! There’s something missing!” before disappearing into his bedroom. He reemerged with one final important touch for our Swiss meal:

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When the potatoes had finished boiling, it was time to melt the cheese in the grill:

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And while we waited for the cheese to melt, Nico assembled his plate:

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You can let the cheese get as melted as you want. Nicolas advised me: ”It tastes best when it’s brown, but it tastes really good and so sometimes I can’t wait that long.” With that he looked under the grill and announced, “It’s ready!” So his mom helped him carefully pull the melted cheese out on its little tray:

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And, using a small scraper, scrape the melted cheese onto the boiled potato:

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And that’s all it takes. We were ready to eat…and Nicolas was pretty excited about it:

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I’ll admit I was a little skeptical about how this would taste. But it was delicious…and Nicolas was right. You could let the cheese melt a little longer and it would get slightly brown and crispy, which made it even more delicious. I would have taken a picture of the browned cheese, but I was too busy eating it!

It’s a hearty meal – I was glad that I had done an 8-mile run earlier that day – but it was really delicious! Oh and I completely understand those who would see Raclette as more of a cold-weather food. When it’s freezing out, it would be an amazing comfort food. In the middle of August, it’s not quite the same. I mentioned this to Nico’s mom, Joanne, and Nico overheard me. He said, “Well, Uncle John, if you feel too hot I know what will help!” And he certainly did:

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