Raclette is a staple of wintertime in Switzerland. If you ask most Swiss which they prefer, fondue or raclette, most will reply raclette.
Raclette is essentially melted cheese, served over boiled potatoes with lots of ground black pepper, accompanied by small pickled onions and gherkins. The name comes from the French verb "racler", to scrape, because of the way the melted cheese is scraped off the block.
Like everything with a strong tradition, there are lots of very strict dos and don'ts, which don't actually matter that much. After you've had it a couple of times you'll get to know what you like and what you don't.
This is not so much a recipe as a description, because there's really nothing to it - that is if you have the right equipment and ingredients.
You'll need a raclette grill. They come in basic styles, talk to a manager or chef at Tony's for help finding a raclette grill.
Once you have a grill, and the following ingredients, just invite some friends round and you're all set.
Time: whatever it takes to cook the potatoes, plus as long as you want.
* 200 to 250g raclette cheese per person (in rectangular blocks for the first machine, or half-wheels for the second)
* small firm potatoes (in Switzerland we use Bintje, Charlotte and the aptly named Raclette varieties)
* small gherkins and pickled onions
* a selection of dried meats, prosciutto, parma ham etc.
* (optional) sliced peppers, tomato, onion, mushrooms
* paprika and fresh black pepper
This method is only for use with the two level grills. With the heavy-duty single level grills, read the instructions to get the general gist of the occasion, then play it by ear.
1. Boil the potatoes in their skins until they're done.
2. Set the table with your meats, pickles, vegetables and cheese, the latter cut into thickish slices (too thick for a sandwich).
3. Put the potatoes on the table in their pan, covered, to keep warm while the cheese is cooking.
4. Each diner takes a slice of cheese and pops it into his/her individual cheese tray, tops it with a slice of tomato or other vegetable if he/she so desires and slides it under the grill. This is a good time to eat a few slices of ham and some gherkins. When the cheese is bubbling convincingly and going brown around the edges, remove the tray from under the grill, scrape the contents with a small wooden spatula on top of the potato which you have just placed on your plate, sprinkle with pepper and paprika, and eat. As it can take five minutes or so for each slice of cheese to cook, particularly before the grill has warmed up properly, it's a good idea to put a new slice of cheese in as soon as you've scraped the last one onto your potato. That way you can keep 'em coming.