We may consider fondue a tasty indulgence, but its origins were far more practical.
Fondue dates back to 18th century Switzerland, where it was devised mainly as a way to use up hardened cheese and stale bread. This hardy peasant fare was usually made with a mixture of Emmentaler and Gruyere cheese and wine, which was melted in a communal pot or caquelon. (The name ‘fondue’ is derived from the French verb fondre meaning ‘to melt’.) Another useful benefit: as diners gathered around the communal pot, the cooking fire helped to keep them warm.
In the 1950s, fondue became popular in North America, and recently it has experienced a rebirth of sorts as, once again, tabletop cooking is trendy among some foodies.
Over the years, of course, fondue has evolved well beyond bread and cheese. Meat, seafood, poultry and veggies are all being cooked up in hot oil or broth tableside, and served with a variety of sauces. And when it comes to dessert, what can be more delicious than dipping fresh strawberries in rich, bubbling chocolate?
The traditional fondue dinner starts with a cheese fondue followed by a meat fondue served with vegetables and a variety of dipping sauces, and finally, a dessert fondue to finish. Or keep the menu simple by serving only a cheese fondue or meat fondue, balanced with a leafy green salad and perhaps, dessert.
1. Traditional Cheese Fondue
2 garlic cloves cut in half
1 cup (250 ml) dry white wine
½ lb (about 2 cups or 225 g) Gruyere cheese, coarsely shredded
½ lb (about 2 cups or 225 g) Emmentaler cheese, coarsely shredded
1 tbsp (15 ml) lemon juice
1 tbsp (15 ml) cornstarch
2 tbsp (30 ml) Kirsch (optional)
½ tsp (2 ml) nutmeg
½ tsp (2 ml) paprika
Freshly ground pepper to taste
– Rub the garlic inside the fondue pot, and then discard.
– Pour the wine and lemon juice into the pot.
– Allow the wine and lemon juice to warm gently, without bringing to a boil.
– Reduce heat and add the cheese gradually. Make sure the first batch of cheese is melted before the next one is added. Use a wooden spoon and stir regularly until all the cheese is incorporated.
– Mix the cornstarch with the Kirsch in a cup, and add the remaining ingredients to the pot. (If not using Kirsch, mix the cornstarch with water or wine.) The fondue can bubble gently, but should not be brought to a full boil.
– Adjust seasonings to taste.
– Transfer to tabletop and keep warm with a fondue burner.
– Serve with a variety of dippers such as: baguettes cut into bite-size pieces; veggies like mild green or red peppers, zucchini slices, roasted potatoes, steamed broccoli or cauliflower; and sliced apples (drizzle with fresh lemon juice to prevent browning). You can also round out the meal with a leafy green salad.
Tip: Have a little extra wine and cheese on hand to adjust the consistency if needed.
Easy variations to traditional cheese fondue:
–French Gruyere Fondue: Substitute the Emmentaler cheese with an additional 225 grams (about 2 cups) of Gruyere cheese and brandy or Cognac for the kirsch.
–Fondue Dijon: Add 1tbsp Dijon mustard, and substitute brandy or Cognac for the kirsch.
–Fondue without wine: If you don’t have wine on hand, you can substitute ½ cup broth and ½ cup milk. (Note: In this case, do not add lemon juice until the liquid has boiled.)
2. Fondue Bourguignon
Also referred to as Beef fondue, this is prepared by cooking bite-sized pieces of lean meat and a selection of vegetables in hot oil — or for a healthier version, in hot broth. (Similarly, chicken, seafood and meatballs — made of lamb, veal, chicken or beef — can be cooked table side and then served with your favourite dipping sauce.)
Lean meat such as beef tenderloin or sirloin (plan on about 6oz of beef per person)
Oil (Preferably Canola, Vegetable, or Peanut) or Beef broth/bouillon*
— Trim fat from beef and cut into ¾ inch chunks. Blot with paper towel and then store in the refrigerator while liquid is heating.
— Fill the pot about halfway with oil and heat on the stove until just before boiling (around 375 degrees Fahrenheit). If using broth, bring to boil. Carefully transfer fondue pot to the table and keep warm with fondue burner.
— Spear the beef with your fondue fork and place in hot liquid. Cook until beef is done to your preference (about 30 seconds for rare, 45 for medium-rare, and 1 minute for well done).
— After cooking remove food from the fondue fork and transfer to plate. (Do not eat directly from the fondue fork, as it will be very hot.) Serve with a selection of your favourite dips, such as Guacamole, Soy or Béarnaise sauce. (Need ideas? Go here for some recipes.)
— Even out the meal with a variety of vegetables such as mushrooms, peppers, potatoes and green salad.
*Hot broth fondue offers a lighter, less caloric and lower fat meal than cheese or hot oil versions. The general rule is that if you’re cooking chicken, use chicken broth and for meat, beef broth, etc.
Tip: Don’t have a thermometer handy? Drop a small piece of bread into the oil, and if it turns golden brown within 30 seconds, the oil is hot enough for cooking.
3. Easy Chocolate Fondue
2 Toblerone bars*(100g or 3.5 oz), finely chopped
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp Cognac, Kahlua or Frangelico
– Bring cream to a simmer.
– Remove from heat and add chocolate. Let stand until softened.
– Add Cognac, Kahlua or Frangelico and whisk.
– Transfer fondue pot to table and keep warm with burner.
– Serve with chunks of fresh fruit or cubes of pound cake or dessert breads. Other tasty dipping foods include marshmallows and plain pretzels.
*Can use white or dark chocolate.
One common hazard with fondue is that it’s all too easy to lose your food in the communal pot! But be forewarned: Certain traditions hold that a person who drops their food in the fondue pot is obligated to buy a round of drinks (or the next pot of fondue). Another tradition dictates that a woman who drops her food in the pot is obligated to kiss the person next to her.
Additional sources: Fonduebits.com; GourmetSleuth.com; About.com; CalgaryHerald.com