Switzerland is like a footballing ninja. You only notice it once it has sneaked up on you and is tanning your hide. As I was compiling the dishes for this World Cup project and sorting the order by FIFA ranking, low and behold I see that Switzerland are lying in 8th (now they are up to 6th). I still assumed that they were one of the lower ranked teams, as has been the occasion quite often. But looking backing they seem to come on strong and then fall away in to obscurity. In fact they were ranked as the third best team in the world in 1993 and then ranked 83rd best in 1998.
Much of Switzerland’s current squad ply their trade in the top leagues in Europe, notably the Bundesliga in Germany, Serie A in Italy and the Swiss Super League (I always remember looking out for European results in football magazines as a kid and used to find great hilarity when the two top teams in Switzerland played: Young Boys vs Grasshoppers.). There is quite a pool of talent with the stand out players being Ricardo Rodríguez, Grant Xhaka and the glamour boy Xheredan Shaqiri, who is affectionately known as the ‘Alpine Messi’. The Swiss like to play on the counter attack, but have recently changed their rigid 4-4-2 formation to a more fluid 4-2-3-1.
Up next is Argentina which should be a cracking match. Switzerland’s best performance in a world cup was the quarter finals some 60 years ago. They are going to have to play out of their skins to equal that record in Brasil…but with the Alpine Messi anything is possible.
Given its location the food of Switzerland is heavily influenced by neighbouring Germany, France and Italy. However, I can think of no bigger impact on 50s, 60s and 70s Western cuisine than that of the iconic Swiss dish, fondue. The idea of dipping morsels of bread and other things in to a pot of melted cheese sauce caught the imagination of many. And to be honest it’s pretty darn good.
I have fond memories of a eating a different Swiss dish (I’ve just figured out if you swap the last two letters of each word in Swiss dish you get a rather smart put-down) with magnificent mountains in front of me. The dish wasn’t great but in my hour of need it was fantastic, and the view made it sensational. The twist is that I wasn’t in the Alps, or even in Switzerland for that matter. I was on the Himalaya trail and trekking around one of the most beautiful mountains in the world, Ama Dablam. I was on my way back to a place called Lukhla during a 21 day trek to near Everest base camp and I had subsisted on dal bhat (lentil soup and rice) for much of the trek. This particular day I stopped at a small shack to make a lunch-time pit stop and on the menu was Swiss rösti, all buttered up and covered in melted Yak cheese. Eating this lunch in the middle of the Nepalese Himalayas staring out at the most incredible view I had ever seen, was for me the pinnacle of travelling. And to be able to tuck in to some real sustenance made me a very happy chap indeed.
So, in honour of wonderful trekking memories and my love for fried potato, Swiss cheese and bacon, todays dish for Switzerland is rösti Valaisanne. Normally when frying potatoes a non-waxy one is required, as waxy potatoes tend to have less matter and more moisture than floury ones and this moisture is not conducive to frying. However, with a rösti the Swiss use a potato which is more on the waxy side. Also, some use the potato raw and some parboil the potato first. For me this has been about experimentation with the goal of having the potato brown and crispy on the outside and soft in the inside.
Serves: 2 | Preparation: 10 minutes | Cooking Time: 45 minutes + 3 hours cooling
For the rösti:
3 Medium Waxy potatoes | Leave the skin on. I use desiree potatoes but Yukon golds are also good to use.
Seasoning Sea salt and black pepper |
2 tbsp. Butter |
2 tbsp. Duck fat |
Topping Swiss cheese | Thinly sliced. Ideally use Raclette (from Valais); Gruyere or Jarlsberg is good as a substitute.
For the bacon:
4 rashers Long middle bacon | Halved width ways.
Pickles to serve
Ensure your potatoes are clean. Add them to a pan of cold water with a pinch of salt and bring to the boil. Parboil until the potatoes are a little tender but not soft. Drain and put them in the fridge for 3 hours to cool.
Preheat an oven to 180°C. This method of cooking bacon is optional, but I like it because it gives a very even cook and the bacon remains flat. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment. Lay your bacon on the parchment and then cover with another piece. Place a second baking sheet on to top of the covered bacon. Cook in the oven for about 15 minutes.
To cook the rösti: remove the potatoes from the fridge and coarsely grate. Add some seasoning. In a small frying pan melt ½ a tablespoon each of the butter and duck fat. When melted and bubbling add half of the grated potato. Allow to fry for a couple of minutes and then with the back of a spatula compress the potato in to a round cake. Fry for a further 10 minutes on a low-medium heat. Now place a plate over the frying pan and turn out the half cooked rösti. Put another ½ a tablespoon each of the butter and duck fat in to the frying pan and return the rösti to the pan, uncooked side down. Place slices of cheese on top of the rösti and cook for a further 8-10 minutes, or until crispy and golden brown. Repeat for the other rösti. (Ideally, if you have two pans do them concurrently).
Serve the cheesy rösti hot with the bacon and a selection of your preferred pickles.