Gourmetten: A stress-free & gezellig, popular, Dutch dining tradition!

THINK INDOOR ELECTRIC BBQ ONE WHICH EVERYONE COOKS FOR THEMSELVES!

For the first time ever, we’re had Gourmetten at our house for Christmas Eve dinner. Millions of Dutch families do this tradition during the holidays. What makes “gourmetting” so much fun and so easy, is that the wide variety of options means everyone’s dietary preferences can be taken into account, and if you do it for a large group, everyone can bring small portions of their own favorite food.  Everyone is responsible for cooking their own food. [Including the kids, if possible!]

While there is no real translation of gourmetten in English, but it is sort of like an indoor electric barbecue – you can say a Korean BBQ, Swiss raclette, or a stone grill are the closest things. The essential item is the pan used for cooking: In Dutch: Gourmetstel or the tafel bakplaat. Either a special two-tier one with little trays or one-tier baking plates both of which you place in the middle of the table. On them, you grill anything you want (meat, fish, vegan meat alternatives, peppers, sliced oven potatoes, onions, mushrooms, asparagus wrapped with bacon, even pineapple. With the two-tier version, the meat goes on the top of the ribbed and/or stone part(s) and there are 4 to 8 slots (this depends on how large of the unit you are using). Underneath are ‘little pans’ where you put the more fragile stuff like veggies and mushrooms, eggs, or even pancake batter to make pancakes. In addition to the grilled items, you can have some salads, sliced baguette bread with butter, and tons of sauces. Don’t expect a quick meal – it takes a lot of time and can get a bit messy. Either from the fat splattering a bit or someone knocking over a glass reaching over for the items. Thankfully this time – neither happened!

TIPS

  • Put the gourmet equipment in the middle of the table so everyone has access. Consider putting it on a wooden cutting board, to prevent the heat of it to damage the table.
  • Put out the sauces, vegetables, etc, in small dishes and put them in multiple places on the table, so everyone can easily get to them.
  • Consider when putting fish & meats on the table. You could serve them on plates from the freezer, to help keep cold. It is recommended NOT to put out more meat than can be consumed in 30 minutes or so.
  • To avoid cross-contamination, have dedicated serving utensils to handle each type of food when putting it on the grill. Mini silicon tongs are very handy.

MEAT & FISH

Unlike in the 30+ years ago, when it first started, you’d go to the butcher, now all of the grocery stores sell pre-packaged meats called gourmetschotel – some pre-marinated some plain, and often on bonus buy 2, get one free! This sounds nice and handy but…. for me, I like to make things complicated when cooking 🙂 Something in my brain says – “Why would I want to buy only those pre-made platters and simply be done with it? Why do I want to spend 30 minutes cutting up various meats and making my own marinades?” Well, I don’t know, I just do 🙂 I think possibly the value for money is not there. I can make it more economical if I buy a chicken breast, a salmon steak, a nice piece of beef. Spend time peeling and deveining shrimp – I try to pass this job off to others, sometimes successfully other times not so 🙂 Okay – so confession, we bought some and made some.

THE STORY OF WHY IT BECAME SO POPULAR BY THE MEAT INDUSTRY

The cooking style is most likely an adaption of cooking styles brought over from parts of Asia by people wo move from the Dutch colonial areas to Europe. But this Dutch Christmas tradition was designed to boost the meat industry. Beginning in the late 70s, a duo Huub Oudshoorn and Ton Boer toured around the Netherlands for over 20 years to convert or attempt to convert Dutch housewives and local schools about this fast and easy cooking method. The force behind the tour was that they had been hired as representatives of a butcher’s interest group and were also commissioned by the Dutch meat industry who saw an increase in the popularity of cheese fondue. So they approached Oudshoorn and Boer to see if they could find a way to make people consume more meat and learn them how to do it. At that time, you went to the butcher for meat and the supermarket was more for groceries. At that point in time, eating meat was not a daily activity, but meant for Sunday suppers. It was something special to eat meat. So again, while these guys didn’t invent gourmetten, they sure do take credit for why it became so popular and as you can imagine, Boer and Oudshoorn were considered celebrities at that time.

WHERE TO BUY THE ESSENTIAL GRILL PAN?

For this evening, we originally borrowed a 4 person grill but a week before the night, I found it was too small and not exactly what I wanted. So knowing I wanted one of my own, we did some searching. It’s like buying a car – it can become so complex if you let it. (sarcasm) My main question, was how will I use it? Are the little raclette pans below so important? If not, I thought should we just go with a “bakplaat” – which is a simple long frying surface and is also called tepanyaki, Bakplaten, or tafelgrillen here in the Netherlands. Sligro had a really long one sale for €29.99 down from €59.99. We were in Sligro to buy some stuff and it was then that we decided to buy two, smaller ones vs one really long one at the same price. My rationale was easier to take on holiday, or when we wanted to make Korean BBQ at home only one was required, etc. Or I could buy a larger two-tier combination – one thing is for sure – I wanted to have enough cooking surface for 6-8 people!!

As I own so many kitchen appliances, I’m sort of bummed I didn’t get one the Royal van Kempen last year at AH when they were doing the stickers for discounts on various items. The first place I think of is Blokker or MediaMarkt. Makro or Sligro [if you have a membership card] or even online shops like Bol.com or Amazon.nl. Of course, discount grocery stores like Aldi and Lidl also have them from time to time. But if you are very frugal, you can opt for a second-hand one from Marketplaats, Facebook Marketplace, or Kringloopwinkels have them from time to time.

Generally, gourmetten is very popular at Easter, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve here in the Netherlands. It’s great for large family gatherings but some people do it for birthdays too. I think we found our new tradition for every Christmas Eve!

PROS & CONS

First, the pro about Gourmetten is an intimate long, slow dinner process with lots of chatting and it’s as the Dutch say gezellig! The kids won’t get bored and you do not have to slave all day in the kitchen to prepare, nor is there the pressure to finish eating something before the next course comes around, as everyone can decide their own pace!

And the only negative drawback which I can think about – apart from cleaning up, is the unmistakable smell of grease lingering around the house till the New Year and beyond if you burn some stuff or don’t open a few windows. This is where M & my sense issues come in handy!

We loved it and had a lot of leftovers meat which we bagged up and put into the freezer! Guess what we had again on New Year’s Eve! :).

What do you think of this Dutch culinary classic?

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