I know, when we say fondue, we think of brown trousers, moustaches, tight red shorts and orange wallpaper…But vintage’s in, isn’t it? Besides, fondue can be anything; which is why I decided it should take centre stage in October; to show what it is capable of.
Although most people think of fondue as a French dish, it was widely used throughout Europe as a way of using leftover cheese from precious years by melting it with crude wine and dipping bread into it with a skewer, and that, as far back as the Romans. It was a way to make food go that little bit further, to keep warm during harsh winters and to find sustenance for the hardest jobs in the countryside.
Equally, the same process has been used in Asia for a dish known as the Mongolian Hot Pot, whereby pieces of meat are cooked in a hot stock and dipped in sauces.
More recently, it became the absolute must of any party thanks to chocolate.
From melted cheese to stock to chocolate – if anything, it shows that the process itself is incredibly versatile.
And that’s what interests me. The fact that by using the same cooking process, you can travel beyond cheese, and embrace fresh flavours, from Chinese to French, from Italian to Norwegian to possibly South American (I’m working on it). You can give it any theme or flavour you like. So create your own selection of fish, vegetables, meats or fruits. Invent your own sauces. Create your own stock. Dip fruit in warm fruit compote. You can make it whatever you want it to be. Sit with your friends instead of standing at the stove, take your time, dipping, tasting and combining, it won’t get cold….
That’s why everybody loves a fondue, grownups and kids alike (although clearly, you need to take extra care with very young children). The host can offer a wide selection of delights and guests can decide on their own combination of flavours and how much they want to eat. It is very sociable and relaxed since it is informal and fun. We always have a fabulous time when we serve one. Even those who are not great fans of what they call ‘DIY dinners’, love a good fondue (you know who you are).
So go in the attic and dust the kit off, you know you’ve got one, (the fondue kit that is, not the shorts, or maybe you do have one of those too… ) and have some fun, be it for Sunday lunch with just you and the kids, or as a party with friends.
A note on the practicalities:
For those of you who are not familiar with the principles of fondue, it is a dish whereby a common cooking pot is placed in the middle of the table for all guests to dip morsels of foods into with the help of a skewer, be it to coat them or cook them. Once cooked, the piece of food is then dipped into sauces and eaten with an assortment of side dishes that complement the main flavours.
For this, you will need a fondue set which includes the heat proof pot, the device that keeps the pot warm and the skewers you will use to dip the food into the pot. Mine also includes dipping dishes. I find that it is best to give each guest their own (or a spoon in each of the sauces so they can put some on their plates) so as to avoid double dipping….
As far as using the set during the meal, you will need to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations as they can be quite different.
If you are making a fondue meal to cook rather than dip/coat, you might like to know that too many pieces of meat/fish in the stock at once reduces the temperature of the said stock and stops the meat/fish to cook efficiently; up to 4 to 5 pieces at a time works best.
You can also top up with stock during the meal if it evaporates too much during cooking, and put it back on the hob to bring back to a simmer.