Fondue is a trend from the “Mad Men” era that has seen something of a resurgence in the last decade or so, and I’m very glad about that. Fondue is perfect for a gathering of people: one or more steaming pots of something dippy at the center while hungry eaters with long forks create their own plates of dipped bites. It’s a meal that cannot be rushed, and it lends itself to good conversation among people with whom you’d like to spend some time (all right up my alley).
It is little surprise that such a cozy experience comes to us from Sweden, starting in the classic form as sturdy bread cubes dipped into hot melted cheese in the 1930s. Fondue grew as a party-centric food through the 1960s and 1970s in the United States and then fizzled out, probably because the aftermath is an outright mess.
All that fun dipping is followed by time at the sink with the usually cheap, thin-walled fondue pots, chiseling out burned-on cheese. One or two uses and the fondue sets went back to the basement for good.
One of these days it would be nice to look for one of the small versions of nonstick enameled cast iron pots to use for fondue. Unfortunately good ones, like the amazing offerings from Staub, cost a small fortune. They’re worth every penny, but you still have to collect all those pennies to get one.
Once fondue hit the U.S.A, all manner of adaptations appeared. A pot of melted chocolate with fruit, chunks of brownies, Oreo cookies or marshmallows for dipping is amazing. You also can heat a pot of vegetable oil and dip various meats, deep fat frying them at the table. It’s yummy, but the open flame and hot oil right there on the table make me nervous. That would not be the night to invite your clumsy uncle to the party.
You also can use a flavored broth for dipping, but a recent experience at a restaurant specializing in fondue makes me question this choice. Some meat is well-suited for dipping in broth, but I can tell you that shrimp or duck cooked in heated strong beef stock is flat out weird.
If you do go with cooking raw meats in oil or broth, remember to be very, very careful to keep raw and cooked meats separated, or you’ll cross-contaminate everything from here to Pittsburgh and make everyone sick.
For simple cheese fondue, begin with a small amount of dry white wine and start melting your choice of cheeses into it. You can start with soft white shredded cheese like mozzarella and then add various shredded Swiss cheeses, some cheddar, whatever you like. Add more wine as needed, some finely chopped garlic, salt, pepper and herbs of your choice. Be creative and add pesto, a tiny bit of allspice or some chili pepper. I would get it all melted on the stove top and then move it to the table warmer afterward.
It’s cold out there. Get a fire going in the fireplace, collect some good wines and invite friends over for fondue.
Published: February 17, 2017