Fondue is experiencing a Renaissance

Funky, Fiery Fondues

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by Nancy Gerlach

Fondue is experiencing a Renaissance

Try Hosting a Retro Fondue Party with Friends!


Fiesta Chile Cheese Fondue

Fondue Bourguignonne

Balsamic-Dijon Sauce

Flamed Cognac and Green Chile Peppercorn Sauce

Atomic Horseradish Sauce

Mongolian Hot-Pot

Sichuan Chile Sauce

Kahlua, Ancho, and Chocolate Fondue

A while back I was invited to a dinner party and was astonished at what was served: a seafood fondue in a vintage avocado green fondue pot! Was I having a flashback to the ’70s? Then I noticed a restaurant in town, part of a nationwide chain, that only serves fondues. These reminded me of the great times I’ve shared with friends around a fondue pot, drinking wine, talking and laughing for hours while cooking and enjoying the food. Those were fun times and it’s great to see fondues are making a comeback.

The Swiss are credited with creating the traditional fondue of cheese and bread in the eighteenth century. At that time, all their cheese was made in the summer, and by the middle of winter it was very hard and didn’t get any better as the months progressed. The sheep and goat herders would carry this hard cheese and bread, which would become very stale, on their travels. Since the provisions they could carry were meager, they had to make due with what they had. So they would melt the hard cheese with a little wine over a fire and dip in chunks of bread to soften, thus creating a hot meal. It became popular with the peasant or farm families, and its popularity with the Swiss has lasted over the years.

The word “fondue” comes from the French and means “to blend” or “to melt.” Quite simply a fondue refers to a dish that’s cooked in a communal pot over a heat source at the table. The pot can contain a sauce, oil, or broth that can be kept hot enough to cook the food, and the food to be cooked in the fondue can be just about anything. The most common are bread cubes, meat, shellfish, vegetables, and fruits. Whatever is to be cooked is speared using a long fork, dipped in the pot, and when done, eaten.

There are pots specifically made for fondues but any set-up, such as a chafing dish, that utilizes a pot on the top with a heat source underneath will work. In the 60s and 70s, fondues used canned sterno to heat, but many of today’s fondue pots are electric and provide consistent and constant heat. The fondue pots themselves, however, have not changed much over the years. Fondues that use oil or broth need to be prepared in metal pots as they can keep the liquid hot enough for items like meats and fish to cook. The more traditional heavy earthenware pots are used for the sauce fondues like the cheese and chocolate ones that only need to be kept warm. These sauces are first cooked on the stove and then transferred to the pot for serving. The only other pieces of equipment required are forks. They need to have long, heat-resistant handles, and it helps if they are color coded so that each guest knows which fork is theirs. But if you don’t have fondue forks, long bamboo skewers can be substituted.

Optional pieces of equipment are the fondue plates. These plates have small compartments on the top of the plate to hold the sauces for dipping. If you don’t have plates like this, divide the condiments in individual bowls in front of each guest. Again this is more sanitary, and makes it easier for guests to “dunk” their food into the sauce.

Because fondues are a communal meal, there are rules of etiquette that should be followed. When eating a cheese or chocolate fondue, spear the piece of food using a fondue fork, dip it into the pot, and twirl the food gently in sauce to coat, letting any excess drip back into the pot. Allow it to cool some before eating. When you put the fondue in your mouth, do not touch the fork with your lips or tongue because the fork does go back in the pot. Or, use another fork to remove the food and eat with that one. To eat a fondue that is cooked in hot oil, always slip the food off the fondue fork with a dinner fork and eat using that one. In addition to being more sanitary, eating off the dinner fork saves you from burning your lips on the hot metal of the fondue fork.

It appears that fondues are popping up on menus across the country, proving that I’m not having a flashback–fondues are in fact becoming popular once again. But these are not “your mother’s fondues” of mild cheese and white bread. Accompanying sauces have become more elaborate, fondue-like dishes from other cultures, such as Mongolian Fire Pots, are being served, unusual foods are being used and, of course, fondues are being fired-up with our favorite pungent pods.

We are rediscovering that fondues bring people together, with everyone focused on communal cooking and sharing conversation. So dust off that old fondue pot (I confess that the one I’ve held on to all these years is burnt orange), and enjoy a funky, fiery fondue.

A Classic, Cheese-based Fondue

Fiesta Chile Cheese Fondue

This fondue is based on the classic, south-of-the-border type fondue, Mexican Queso Fundido. The addition of alcohol to fondues lowers the boiling point so that cheese proteins will not curdle, but take care not to let the cheese boil. I’ve also added a little lemon juice which also helps. A few tablespoons of flour or, as in this case, cornstarch with the cheese helps make for a creamy consistency and also keeps the cheese from separating. This fondue sauce, like any of the cheese fondues, should never be made far in advance of service. Note that any crust, called la croute, that is left in the bottom of the pot is considered a delicacy and should be scraped off and served.

For dipping:

Cherry tomatoes
Jicama slices
Broccoli florets, blanched
Miniature carrots
Flour tortilla wedges

1 1/2 cups (about 6 ounces) shredded jalapeno
Pepper Jack cheese or substitute Monterey Jack cheese
1 1/2 cups (about 6 ounces) shredded queso asadero,
or substitute mozzarella cheese
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 cups beer or substitute chicken broth
4 green New Mexico chiles, roasted, peeled, stems and seeds removed, cut in thin strips
3 tablespoons minced onions
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
1/2 pound cooked and crumbled chorizo

Arrange the vegetables and tortillas on a large serving platter.
In a bowl, toss the cheese with the cornstarch and set aside.
In a medium-size heavy saucepan, heat the beer, chiles, onion, lemon juice, garlic, and oregano until barely simmering. Add the cheese, a handful at a time, and stirring in a figure-8 or zig zag motion, until the cheese is melted before adding more. When all the cheese has been added, stir in the chorizo. Transfer the fondue to an enamel or ceramic fondue pot and keep warm over a burner. Serve immediately with fresh vegetables for dipping.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Heat Scale: Medium

Fondue Bourguignonne

Fondue Bourguignonne refers to a fondue of meats or vegetables cooked in oil. It was created in the vineyards in Burgundy sometime during the middle ages. Here, when these grapes are ready to harvest, they have to be quickly picked, and the workers couldn’t take time to leave the fields for a hot lunch. Some hungry soul (many credit a monk named Johann du Putzxe) came up with the idea of quickly cooking pieces of meat in pots of hot oil that were set-up in the vineyards. That way, workers could dunk and cook pieces of meat in spare moments without losing valuable harvesting time. This fondue is most often made with beef, but pork, game, poultry, seafood as well as vegetables can be cooked in this manner. I’ve fired up the traditional French side sauces with ones based on those found in the Spicy Food Lover’s Bible by Dave DeWitt and me.

Assorted Sauces (see below)

1 1/2 pounds trimmed beef tenderloin or sirloin, cut in 3/4-inch cubes
Vegetable oil, peanut or canola preferred

Place the sauces in individual bowls and arrange around the fondue pot and have the beef at room temperature on a serving platter.

Pour the oil into a fondue cooker to no more than 1/3 to 1/2 the capacity or to a depth of 2 inches. Heat the oil over a medium heat to a temperature of 370 degrees F and transfer the cooker to the fondue burner. The meat should bubble when put in hot oil; if it doesn’t, return to the heat.

To serve, guests spear the meat with a fondue fork and cook in the hot oil to desired doneness– 15 seconds for rare, and about a minute for well-done. Transfer the beef to a dinner fork, dip in a sauce, eat and enjoy.

Note: If the oil cools during the meal, reheat on the stove.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Heat Scale: Varies with the sauce

Balsamic-Dijon Sauce

1 tablespoon butter
2 shallots, minced
1 cup beef broth
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup Dijon-style mustard
1/2 teaspoon crushed red chile, such as New Mexican or piquin
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a heavy skillet, melt the butter, add the shallots and sauté until soft. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients, and simmer for 5 minutes to thicken.
Yield: 1 cup
Heat Scale: Medium

Flamed Cognac and Green Chile Peppercorn Sauce

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
2 green New Mexico chiles, stems and seeds removed, finely diced
1/3 cup cognac
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon water-packed green peppercorns, drained

In a heavy skillet, heat the butter and olive oil. Add the shallots and green chile and saute until the shallots are transparent. Add the cognac, stand back, and light it with a match. Continue to heat until the flame dies down. Reduce the heat to medium and slowly whisk in the cream. Simmer the sauce for 5 minutes to thicken. With the side of a cleaver, crush the peppercorns and stir into the sauce.
Yield: Approximately 1 cup
Heat Scale: Mild

Atomic Horseradish Sauce

3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sour cream
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
1/4 teaspoon dried ground habanero chile
1/4 teaspoon dry dill weed
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
Pinch ground mace

To make the sauce, come all the ingredients in a bowl and stir to mix. Allow to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes to blend the flavors.
Yield: 1/4 cup
Heat Scale: Hot

Mongolian Hot-Pot

A Mongolian Hot-Pot is a meal in itself. And after cooking and enjoying the meal, the rich broth is then served as a soup with the noodles. This type of cooking was introduced to China by the invading Mongolians and now it’s considered a classic Peking dish. A traditional fire-pot has a central funnel which is filled with burning charcoal and around the funnel is a channel that is filled with a hot liquid, most often broth, and cooking is done in this channel. Since most of us don’t own a fire-pot, a large fondue or electric pot will work just fine. A traditional Mongolian Hot-Pot is prepared with lamb or rather mutton, but this lighter version is made with shrimp.

Dipping Sauces:

1/2 cup sesame paste
1/4 cup Asian chile oil
1/4 cup Chinese hot mustard
Sichuan Chile Sauce (see recipe below)
1 1/2 pounds medium or large shrimp, shelled and deveined
4 ounces cellophane noodles, soaked and drained
1/2 head Chinese cabbage, shredded
6 to 8 spinach leaves, shredded
1 cup sliced mushrooms
4 ounces tofu, cubed
Chopped fresh cilantro


6 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger
3 green onions, finely chopped, including some of the greens
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 tablespoons Asian chili sauce

Arrange the dips in individual bowls, the shrimp on a plate, and divide the noodles between the soup bowls. Place the vegetables and tofu on a platter and bring to room temperature.

Bring the broth to a boil, add the ginger, onions, and the remaining ingredients and keep the broth simmering throughout the meal.

Each diner cooks his own portions of shrimp, cabbage, spinach, mushrooms, and tofu, seasoning them when done with the dip of his choice, and accompanied by cilantro. More vegetables are added as required.

When all the shrimp has been eaten, any remaining vegetables and tofu are added to the soup. Boil vigorously for 3 to 4 minutes, then ladle into the soup bowls over the noodles and serve for the final course.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Heat Scale: Varies according to dipping sauces

Sichuan Chile Sauce

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, peanut preferred
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 small onion, finely chopped
6 fresh red chiles, such as piquins or Thais, stems and seeds removed, minced
1/3 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt

Heat the oil in a wok or skillet, and when hot, add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry for 20 seconds.

Add the onion and stir-fry for another minute.

Add the chiles and the vinegar to the wok and simmer for 10 minutes, adding water if the mixture gets too dry.

Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for 5 more minutes.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Transfer the mixture to a food processor or blender and process to a smooth puree, adding water as necessary.
Yield: approximately 1 cup
Heat Scale: Hot

Fondue’s Flexibility Allows It to be an Entree
or a Dessert

Kahlua, Ancho, and Chocolate Fondue

Chocolate dessert fondues don’t have to be bland! Add chile powder for a pungent punch as evidenced by this recipe. Substitute other liqueurs such as kirsch, cognac, Cointreau, brandy, or raspberry schnapps for the Kahlua. Fruits such as slightly underripe bananas, pineapple chunks, or strawberries are also great in this fondue dish.

1 8-ounce milk chocolate bar
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons Kahlua or other coffee flavored liqueur
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ancho chile
24 to 30 bite-size cubes angel food or pound cake

Break up the chocolate into small pieces and melt it in the top of a double boiler or in a saucepan over a pot of simmering water, over a very low heat. Be sure that none of the water gets into the chocolate.

Add the cream, stir well, cook for 5 minutes or until thickened.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the Kahlua and chile and stir well.

To serve: Place the sauce in a ceramic fondue pot over a low heat and place the pot on a large serving plate. Surround the fondue with the cake cubes and serve with long forks or bamboo skewers. Guests spear the cubes, swirl in the chocolate to coat, and enjoy.
Yield: 4 servings
Heat Scale: Mild

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