September 29, 2004
Raclette & Pierrade

raclette pierrade.jpg
This week my brother and his wife are visiting us here in Paris and since their visit coincides with the beginning of the cool weather I was able to get out one of my favourite toys to prepare them a "real" French dinner. In fact, this toy is such a versatile one that it actually allows you to prepare TWO authentic French specialities at the same time: raclette and pierrade.

Now in fact, these two dishes are never served at the same time in a French home. They are often packaged together in the same apparatus simply because they rely on the same kind of heating element, one cooking food above the heat and the other below it, but they are two distinct "dinners". We can never decide which we like best and see no need to deprive ourselves of either delight and so...being pigs, we generally use both at the same time.

Raclette

As any good English/French dictionary and many a food reference book will tell you, the word "raclette" derives from the French verb racler, to scrape. This is related to the traditional way of eating raclette cheese: a heating element of some kind is applied to the block of cheese and you scrape off the cheese as it melts and eat it over boiled potatoes, ham or toasted dark bread. Perhaps in the dark cave-man ages of France the heating element was simply a hot log pulled from a fire. In a Savoyard or Swiss restaurant, you will generally find that the large round cheese is cut in half and placed in a special holder with a heating bar that can be lowered to a few inches above the cheese cut. (As a picture is worth a thousand words, I would suggest you follow the link to this photo to see what I mean.) If you are hoping to make the cheese at home, you will most likely invest in a machine like mine. It has six trays that fit underneath the heating element; you fill them with slices of cheese, slide them under the heater and pull them out when the cheese is liquid and bubbly. The scraping reference in the name is still honoured in that each tray comes with its own little wooden paddle for scraping the cheese out of the tray and onto your slice of ham or boiled potato or piece of bread. It's a delight. Raclette cheese is much more flavourful than most other hard French cheeses and it melts into a satisfying gooey mess. I have made it many times for first-timers and it is always a hit. The comparison with fondue savoyarde is of course inevitable, but the main difference for the cook is in the preparation; every cook has his or her favourite recipe for fondue, but the only way to prepare a truly wonderful raclette is to find a very good cheesemonger. If you aren't lucky enough to live in France, your best bet when visiting is to check the menu on any fondue restaurant you find: they often serve both raclette and fondue.

If you are planning on eating out or in, it is well to remember that raclette cheese (like all good French cheeses) has a season: you cannot find it in the hot summer months. You wouldn't want to heat up the table with the cheese-melting apparatus in the middle of a heatwave, but even if you did nature doesn't supply you with the ingredients at that time of the year.

Swiss or Savoyard? Actually, like cheese fondue both the Swiss and the French claim to have invented raclette. The French region of Savoie being a next-door neighbor to Switzerland, all you can really say is that it comes from that general region!

On a personal note, to accompany our raclette I boiled a kilo of potatoes, cut some bread and served ham from the Savoie. Because my Critic doesn't like his savoie ham raw, this brings me nicely to the second part of the dinner...

Pierrade

Pierrade refers to the stone which rests above the heating element on my machine. Pierre means stone, so a pierrade is a stone-like thing. This is definitely NOT a French monopoly in the food world: cooking your food on a hot stone slab. Still, it's a lot of fun and as you are heating up the machine for cheese-melting it would be a waste not to slap some meat on the top of the element, right? Cooking the meat is the responsibility of the guests: just lay the meat on the hot slab and remember to turn it over and remove it when done. Generally, one person is designated to keep an eye on each of the meats, making sure that more is put on the element as space becomes available.

In using the pierrade, a cook has a bit more scope for creativity. First, you can prepare a variety of meats and marinate them in sauces if you like. Secondly, you can come up with tasty sauces to accompany your meats.

This time I kept to a fairly simple meat selection: the Savoie ham, slices of beef and pieces of chicken with a touch of olive oil to keep them from sticking to the stone. The store had a good selection of the new fall mushrooms, so I bought trompettes de la mort, oyster mushrooms, some that looked a bit like shiitake (but weren't) and a new one to me: pieds bleus. I sauteed them in a bit of butter, garlic and thyme and added a spoonful of creme fraiche just before serving. (Not only was this delicious with the beef, but I ate the remainder tonight with some leftover raclette on toast and it went extremely well with the cheese too!) For the chicken, I sauteed a chopped shallot in butter, and added a little tarragon, mustard and creme fraiche. Other favourites in the sauce department are: peppercorn sauce, bearnaise, tomato and hot pepper...basically anything you can think of to go with meat will please your guests! As for the meat, I also often use slices of duck or pork. The duck can get a bit messy as it gives up more fat than the other meats, but it is truly delicious.

Serve all of the above, cheese and meats, with a nice thick red wine to help fight all the cholesterol you are taking on. It's well worth it!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at September 29, 2004 4:27 PM | TrackBack Print-friendly version
Comments

I've enjoyed racletting for the past 20 years or so, and now my kids are also avid racletteers. This is great for children as it keeps their hands occupied for most of the meal. And for the adults, as you point out, lashings of red wine are necessary - but only for medicinal reasons, of course. Pass the plonk...........

Posted by Jules on September 30, 2004 at 2:58 AM

We are looking to buy a "hot stone" (as we call it) for our daughter for Christmas. Do you know where we might find it in the US? We have one made by Sigg which was bought in Switzerland a number of years ago. We love it.

Posted by Pat on November 21, 2004 at 3:22 PM

I would like to buy a pierrade, could you please let me know where I can buy one from

Posted by David White on April 19, 2005 at 6:53 AM

David, the official site for raclette (which I have recently discovered is a bit like Kleenex - used as a generic term when in fact it's a trademarked one) is http://www.pierrade.com/en/index.htm. They have information on the apparatus but seem to be selling mainly to professionals.

In France, the machine is officially called a pierre à griller and you can pick them up at Darty (www.darty.fr).

From the BT in your address, though, i'm assuming you are looking in the UK. I tried looking for a raclette machine on www.amazon.co.uk and found one that looked like it included the cooking top, but it wasn't clear if it was actually a stone. I also tried the Philips site (the brand of our machine) but wasn't able to find one currently being sold.

I'm sorry I can't be of more help! If you are in France or visit here, though, you should be able to find one easily at Darty or any major department store. For the UK, all you'll need is an adapter.

If I have it all wrong and you are in the US, this raclette machine on amazon.com has an optional stone accessory:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B0002J191S/qid=1113913357/sr=52-2/ref=sr_52_2_etk-outdoor/103-9872141-9678244?v=glance&s=kitchen&n=286168

I hope that helps!

Posted by Meg in Paris on April 19, 2005 at 7:25 AM

I purchased a raclette through Peppers here in Canada today as a matter of fact - it's made by Tefal - the model is Ambiance Pierrade
I have an old rock that I cook on, but I love the idea of the raclette and wish I had that type

Posted by Lorna Davies on July 7, 2005 at 3:17 PM

I was given a Siggrillette made by Sprint from Switzerland as a gift ,but cannot use it USA .I cannot find an adapter anywhere . Can you help.I have been looking for three years,and no luck
Stella

Posted by Stella on August 1, 2005 at 2:46 PM

I brought one home from France, no luck using either, could not get it hot enough. Just found one on the web, believe it was sausagemaker.com (65.00 plus shipping). I also have had mine for 3 years and finally decided to buy another. I've also inquired as to having re-wired and it apparently will not work. Thinking of shipping mine back to friends in France. I'm having trouble getting or finding meat sliced thin enough...any suggestions?

Posted by glee on August 29, 2005 at 5:42 PM

I brought one home from France, no luck using either, could not get it hot enough. Just found one on the web, believe it was sausagemaker.com (65.00 plus shipping). I also have had mine for 3 years and finally decided to buy another. I've also inquired as to having re-wired and it apparently will not work. Thinking of shipping mine back to friends in France. I'm having trouble getting or finding meat sliced thin enough...any suggestions?

Posted by Glee on August 29, 2005 at 5:43 PM

I am interested in purchasing traditional pierrades (stones that are preheated in a oven, not electrical ) for my restaurant any idea where i can buy them ?

Posted by Fiona Twyman on November 15, 2005 at 1:23 PM

great article! I love raclette, and I am sooo excited to learn about the pierrade. I just got finished blogging about raclette. Here is the entry - called Vive La Raclette!

Posted by Celeste LeTard Williams on March 11, 2006 at 1:25 PM

Oh Meg! The site you mentioned has next to nothing to do with raclette. A good site with lots of recipes, history and explanations to what is raclette is here: http://www.raclette.com.au/

Or simply look into wikipedia...

Posted by John on December 10, 2006 at 4:27 PM

John, thanks for the links. I wrote this post over two years ago and I'm not sure that Wiki was the phenomenon it is today (or if it was already I was unaware). I'm glad to see that raclette is a bit easier to find on the web these days!

Posted by Meg in Paris on December 12, 2006 at 1:47 PM

How can i find some full explained (ingredients and quantities) raclette + pierrade menù?

I wasn't able to find any dedicated site except commercial ones.

Thanx in advance,

::Dibbibbì::

Posted by Dibbibbì on September 23, 2007 at 1:06 PM

Well, for the raclette part of the meal, the only ingredients you need are raclette cheese and potatoes and perhaps a few slices of ham per dinner guest. I believe 250 grams of cheese per guest is the usual amount of cheese and say 5-6 small potatoes per guest.

If you are making both meat and cheese, I would cut back to 200 grams of cheese per person and add perhaps half a chicken breast or half a steak per person.

It's not really a recipe per se, so much as a method of cooking a meal. And there are a number of tasty sauces to go with the meat side of the meal: peppercorn sauce or bearnaise or just some mushrooms sautéed with garlic and butter and parsley. Even A1 sauce can be nice in a pinch!

I hope that helps a bit? If you want to order true Raclette cheese in the US, there is a site I have used twice that seems pretty good (wasn't able to taste the cheese myself as it was a gift): http://www.fromages.com/

Posted by Meg in Paris on September 24, 2007 at 10:31 AM

I am looking for a "potato bucket" used to store hot potatoes for raclette dinners. My mother-in-law purchased one many years ago in Switzerland. It is wood with a lid and 2 fixed handles on each side. The inside is insulated. Anyone know where I can purchase one?? Thanks

Posted by Susan on November 11, 2007 at 1:26 PM

Susan, I've never seen the bucket you describe in France. That said, I usually boil my potatoes in a Le Creuset pot and after draining them return them to the still-warm pot and put the lid on. They stay pretty warm that way!

Posted by Meg in Paris on November 15, 2007 at 3:59 PM

hallo. I have a Swiss bought pierrade with room for about 12 little shovel dishes underneath. I bouht it a number of years ago and canot remember what one should/could put in the little dishes apart from cheese! please clarify. thanks

Posted by raphaella on July 1, 2008 at 4:25 AM

I saw wooden potato buckets in La Clusaz last week but I have never seen them in Paris. You could probably call the La Clusaz tourist office or the mairie for the address of the store opposite the tourist office that carries this products.
Bob in Paris

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