Chris Lacey is a British chef living in France who loves French-inspired cooking.
In our continuing series of recipes using a seasonal star ingredient, he rustles up one quick dish – Menu Rapide – and one slower – A La Carte one – with raclette cheese.
MENU RAPIDE – Croque Monsieur
This is a variation on the recipe for croque monsieur using raclette instead of gruyère. However, in all other ways it is the original classic dish that is quite unlike the grilled ham and cheese sandwich that you find on snack menus throughout France. It is very good as either an hors d’oeuvre or a small entrée. It would also make a light lunch served with a crisp green salad.
Fresh bread, sliced
Raclette cheese, sliced
Cut the bread into squares, about 10 cm square (smaller if you are going to serve them as “nibbles”). Butter one side only and lay on top of the buttered side a slice of raclette cheese. Then place a slice of lean ham on the cheese. Butter another slice of bread and close the sandwich with the buttered side on the ham.
Heat the clarified butter until hot, and fry the sandwich until golden brown That’s it. Simple but effective!
A LA CARTE – Raclette
As well as a type of cheese, Raclette is a French variation of the fondue. Jane and I were introduced to it by French friends and we love it – once you have tried it, I guarantee you will be hooked too! It is a relaxed and sociable way of eating that puts a completely different slant on the fondue (those of you of a certain age will remember it being all the rage in the sixties!)
Raclette was originally made by holding a large piece of cheese close to the open fire and scraping off the softened part as it melts. The soft cheese was then placed on a plate and eaten with boiled potatoes in their jackets and a local, heavy white wine.
The modern version is far less messy! Today you can buy a raclette – a circular grill with six to eight slots underneath to heat the cheese on small individual trays, plus scrapers – from many shops including Carrefour and Le Clerc, for between 35-55€.
While the cheese melts, the grill is used to warm up accompanying salamis, sausages and other meats. We have a vegetarian friend and when she comes round we cook thin slices of salmon or a firmish fish plus fruit such as pineapple slices and mango.
The easiest way to is to buy the cheese (you can use gruyere as well as raclette) in slices that fit the trays. You can find these in all big supermarkets at the cheese counter or in packets from the shelf.
The traditional meat to serve is wafer thin salami (not heated), slices of ‘bacon’ (rolls of what we consider back bacon), smoked sausage, the best of which is morteau that is also available in supermarkets. This needs boiling for 35 minutes before it is grilled. You can also have thinly sliced filet steak – our French friends were surprised by this but have rapidly become converts.
Cook the meat at the same time as the potatoes – I find the red-skinned variety is best with this dish. You can also use florets of cauliflower both the white and the Romanesque (green). Cook these in water beforehand, then bring to the table to dip into the cheese.
As for quantities, we find that per person 12 slices of cheese per person, and about 250g of meat works for most appetites. You can serve it with a heavy white wine but red such as Vin de Savoie also goes well.