Last year by this time I hosted at least three raclette dinners. The weather was quite "wintery" and the idea of eating warm melting cheese with a glass of wine seemed very appealing. This year, weather is unusually warm and it took me a long time to do my first raclette. I use that opportunity to introduce those who never tried raclette to that easy, no-haste and a very social party idea.
When I lived in Geneva, every Friday, starting late at fall, we met at our friends place for either a fondue or a raclette dinner. At that time, I preferred fondue, as it seemed more tricky to make. Today, I like to serve raclette as something more versatile and more fun to eat. In Switzerland, raclette is often served with sliced meats: salami, dried ham dried or cured ham, but most often I make a simple vegetarian version of it.
Raclettes and fondues are served and most appreciated in the skiing resort cabins, where all the tired skiers with cold feet finish their days.
To make raclette you need a few things.
First, you need a special machine that you can purchase easily on line from Amazon.com, as I did a few years ago, the simpler, the better.
Second, you need the right cheese. The most important aspect of the raclette cheese is its melting capacity. You can get a special cheese called Raclette (Trade Joe's and Whole Foods usually carry them during the season, or you can buy it at specialty cheese stores) which melts easily and smells wonderfully (or, as some say, dreadfully).
Instead of the Racleete cheese you can buy a more expensive Appenzeller, Gruyère, or Comté which originally were used in the raclette mix. I also add two different types of cheese, less aromatic and milder in taste as Jarlsberg or Emmentaler. You need about a quarter pound of cheese per person.
Third, you need cooked potatoes. You cook them until soft and place on top of the raclette machine. They will get slightly roasted while you will wait for the cheese to melt underneath. I like to use baby potatoes, but any not too large potatoes will do. You need about 2 pounds for four people.
Fourth, you need marinated vegetables and mushroooms to serve with the raclette. They should be small (the smaller the better) cornichons, pickled baby onions, and marinated mushrooms. You can buy good cornichons at any food store, but make sure they are not "sweet", with no honey added, which makes them taste like a dessert rather than something pickled. Their sourness in an important aspect as I think it helps to digest the cheese.
You can buy marinated mushrooms that are pretty good, but I often make my own which taste even better. However, it is hard to get pickled onions here, so I buy pearl onions preserved in salty water. I drain the salty water away and replenish it with a half measure of hot water and another half measure of 6-percent vinegar. Then I close the jar, and let the onions marinate for at least one day. I also like to buy sweet and sour hot peppers to serve, just for the extra spiciness and color.
And lastly, you need white wine. I would say the lighter and cheaper the better. In Switzerland a special, almost bubbly wine is served in one-liter bottles. I think that very dry sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio are closest substitutes for the original Swiss wine. My latest favorite, and not only for raclette, is Coteaux Du Languedoc.
Good sea salt and freshly ground pepper are also indispensable.
To Make Raclette:
1. Preheat the machine to the maximum temperature.
2. Put cooked potatoes on top.
3. Put marinated vegetable in medium bowls,
4. Cut cheese in slices an place a serving on each little pan and grill the cheese until it melts.
5. Scrape the cheese with a spatula, drop it on top of the potatoes, and season with salt and pepper (but mostly pepper).