You've probably heard of fondue but have you ever heard of raclette? I hadn't until this summer when a friend of ours introduced us to this European dining experience.
Where to start? Well for one, raclette is a cheese and it's the table-top grill that cooks the cheese. The whole thing started with Swiss peasants when they'd melt their cheese over the fires in the field to eat with their bread and like all things rustic eventually the tradition became chic and found its way to the tables of the trendy middle class because, after all, what's not to like about melted cheese?
Which brings me to raclette today. Instead of open fires you can buy an electric raclette appliance which does the work of the fire. The grill sits in the middle of the table and has two levels: the upper level holds a hot plate that can be used to toast bread or rest your raclette pans when they're not in use and the bottom level has a place to put your little raclette pan when you want to melt the cheesy goodness all over your selected items.
You place a piece of cheese in the pan, stick it in to broil on the bottom then slide it out of the pan with your little fancy squeegee thingy onto your food. Traditionally the cheese goes with bread, boiled baby potatoes, prosciutto, pickled onions or gherkins but you can also add broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, pineapple, pears or apples. Just now it occurred to me that I bet this baby would even make some pretty mean s'mores should the craving ever arise.
After our raclette meal this summer I knew I wanted one (because I need more kitchen gadgets) and began shopping all over the internet to find the right gear. It was tricky at first because if you don't spell the word correctly it throws off your search but once I had it right I found that Amazon carried many different models of which the Hamilton Beach version looked to be the overall best deal ($70 on sale) and had received good reviews on other sites.
Though they come in other sizes you'll want an appliance with eight pans because the beauty of raclette is that it's a completely social experience. The cheese takes time to melt so you eat slowly with opportunities for conversation--why we Americans snarf down our food is something that I'll never understand--plus it can be as casual or as swanky as you care to make it depending on your accompaniments. You'll want to make sure you have room for guests.
It also makes a fun, quick, nutritious meal for the family. All you need is some cheese, bread, salami, maybe some potatoes or gherkins for variety and you've got a dinner that goes together in minutes that your kids are going to love. Make-it-yourself creations always score lots of points. Hmmmm . . . would I sound too white-trashy if I suggested that my kids would want to use this to make nachos for dinner? Heh, there's irony in that--using a fancy European raclette to make nachos. But my point is, the possibilities are endless.
I'm asking for one of these for Christmas (did you get that Andrew?)
Technorati tags: raclette, cheese, cooking, bakeware