Friday, 16 March 2012

Elegant Entertaining - Fondue

I could probably write an entire book on fondue. This is one of our favourite ways of entertaining a small to medium group of friends. Everyone can sit there for a couple of hours, exchanging stories, jokes, and opinions, along with wonderful food, in a casual and fun atmosphere. A fondue can be small and intimate or wildly extravagant - a simple family meal, or larger group, because you are only limited by your space and equipment. It is best to get as much prep work done early in the day, then when guests arrive, you can sit down and enjoy the fact that they all have to cook their own meal, while you get all the credit! 

In general no more than 4 people per pot is recommended. Any more than that, and things get too crowded, not to mention that the pot cools off too quickly as items are added to cook. There are many kinds of fondue, including our favourites of meat, fish, and cheese. I know many people love chocolate fondue, but I have never actually done that - interesting for a chocoholic! I have heard of people who have in one fondue party - cheese, then meat, then chocolate, but I choose not to combine, because I think they take away from each other.  

So...... fondue 101 ----- What you need - a heat source (flame, or electric), pot, and fondue forks -(at least one per person, but we use 2 or 3), as well as regular plates, knives and forks for each person.
Over the years we decided that commercially produced fondue burners are not really functional. First - they are difficult to fill with the alcohol, and there is almost always a spill.  Second - they don't burn for very long ( about 20 minutes) before running out of fuel, and they MUST be absolutely cooled before they can be refilled. This means that you need at least two burners for each cooking pot, so one can be ready to go as the first runs out of fuel.  We discovered that small tabletop butane burners work best for us. They are a bit of a luxury, ( about $30 to $35 each - available at any hardware store), but they are so convenient, and we use them 8 to 10 times a year. They also come in handy of you have an electric stove and the power goes off.  In fact Ben just borrowed two, because the power was off and he needed to cook dinner. Of course, some basic safety rules apply, especially if children are part of the group. I tend to keep fondue for kids at least 8 because they have a good awareness of fire dangers. (Teeny people - under 2 are also usually safe because they are very closely supervised, and Mom or Dad cook for them.)
So what kind of fondue do you start with? Your choice , but here are some ideas for the primary types.

Meat Fondue - I don't say beef because at our house fondue is a feast involving several kinds of meat.
Usually, there are several kinds of sauces for people to dip the cooked meat in. I also serve good fresh bread - french loaves and whole wheat, or multigrain; salad or raw vegetables; and sometimes mini roasted potatoes. Of course, good wine is always a part of the meal!

Broth or oil? Again the choice is yours.

 Oil is more well known, but there are some major drawbacks. Hot oil can splash and burn people very easily. It is also very dangerous to carry a pot of hot oil from stove top to table. Yes, I know, a pot of hot broth is also hazardous, but scalds are not quite as bad as oil burns. Aside from that, I think broth is healthier. Oil can also leave an unpleasant odour in the house, not to mention leaving a scum on walls, ceilings, and furniture. I have even heard of people who put both on the table, broth to cook the meat, and oil to deep fry battered vegetables. We usually use broth, and cook vegetables in it too.  If you choose oil, it needs to be an oil which can be heated to high temperatures before it hits it's smoking point - peanut oil is the best choice if you are not allergic, but corn oil and safflower oil are good, too. Never use olive oil, as the ignition point is relatively low, and it tastes very bitter if heated to boiling point.

Broth - I make broth from soup bones and a little meat for flavour. I also add some celery, carrot, and onion. I make the broth early in the day, and let it simmer for five to eight hours.  I have also used store bought broth, especially since January. 

Sauces - We usually have five or six types of sauce made from a mayonnaise and yogurt base. You could also use sour cream instead of yogurt. I mix about one and a half cups of each, then divide the base into small serving bowls with a spoons in them. Some flavours are:
1)  2 Tbs each of finely minced onion and garlic
2)  1 Tbs of whiskey or brandy and 2Tbs ketchup
3)  1 Tbs Dijon mustard
4)  1 - 4 tsp of curry powder - depending on how hot you like it
5)  1 Tbs minced jalapeno pepper and 1/2 tsp cumin
6)  1 Tbs minced onion and 3 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese

Barbecue sauce and peanut sauce are staples on our table. You could also use any commercial sauce that you like, such as ranch dressing, or any kind of chip dip. All the sauces are placed around the table, so people can spoon a little of each sauce onto their plate for dipping. Wil likes peanut sauce best. I tend to favour the onion and garlic, or whiskey sauce.

Meat -  about  two to three hundred grams of meat for each person, and can be beef sirloin or tenderloin, chicken breasts, pork tenderloin or boneless loin chops, lamb shoulder or loin, or bison steaks. Use fresh meat, not thawed. Cut the meat into cubes about one to one and a half inches. Each kind of meat is in it's own dish, and then gets passed around. Sometimes, I have to have two containers of each kind of meat.  I make meat balls from extra lean ground beef, and usually have a spicy blend and an herbal blend. Meat is cooked on a fondue fork in the pot by each guest, then transferred to their plate, where a regular fork is used for eating. Basic food safety must be observed, so raw meat never goes on  people's plates. Likewise, fondue forks never go in people's mouths.
There are a couple of traditions we tell people about fondue - that is if a person loses a piece of meat in the pot, they owe the host a bottle of wine; however, if the host loses a piece of meat in the pot, he owes each person at the table a bottle of wine!

Vegetables - broccoli and cauliflower broken into florets, mini carrots, strips of peppers, and mushrooms. (We always have a pot designated as mushroom free). People drop a vegetable into the pot and fish it out when done to their likeness.

After everyone has eaten as much as they can, the left over meats can be frozen, and the sauces put in the fridge to be used for dips with veggies or served over another meal.   Have fun!

Fish or seafood -  Many people have never heard of a fish fondue. We got this idea from some Chinese friends. Because fish has a very delicate taste and texture, you need some different things than a meat fondue. Fish is cooked in a delicate court boullion (another name for fish stock), or chicken broth. I usually have at least one pot with a broth that is very spicy, and the other an herb blend.
 I use cubes cut from fillets of salmon, cod, halibut, as well as seafood such as shrimp, scallops, and mussels. If you are feeling really rich you can add lobster or crab, just be very cautious about safe handling.  Because fish breaks so easily, it can't be cooked on forks like meat. There are tiny baskets available from Asian grocery stores, which we use instead. The vegetables are a little different: mini bok choy, asparagus tips,  and green onions instead of broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower.  The sauces are also more delicate, with lemon, chili and dill taking place of the heavier sauces used for meats.
I will post recipes for those sauces on another blog.

Cheese fondue -  I make traditional Swiss cheese fondue, which I learned to make while living in Geneva. It has white wine, garlic, Gruyere and Emmental cheese, and is served with french bread cubes, salad and of course, good wine! I will put a full recipe for this on another blog also.  Aside from that traditional fondue, there are many wonderful cheeses from all over the world, and they can be used instead of the Swiss ones. Try using cheese that you like, experiment, and most of all ------Have fun and enjoy!


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