Fondue is back

Slow food with a heart

  • Dec. 20, 2019 6:30 a.m.

– Story by Jane Zatlyny Photography by Don Denton

I first experienced the communal cooking ritual known as fondue some 20 years ago. Six of us gathered around an avocado-coloured pot, a hand-me-down from the host’s parents. We pierced cubes of raw meat with our fondue forks and then lowered them into bubbling hot oil.

I remember the sizzle of the oil as it met the meat, the fragrant cloud of steam that rose from the pot and how the experience warmed my senses on that cold winter’s night. We chatted and turned our forks with anticipation until our morsels of meat were ready to eat, then dabbed the meat into special sauces prepared by our host. Intrigued, I would go on to discover cheese fondue, hot broth fondue and, eventually, chocolate fondue.

Although most of us think of fondue as a retro North American cuisine, it actually has its roots in Europe. The word itself is a derivative of the French verb “fondre,” which means “to melt.” The Swiss staked their claim to the gooey goodness that is cheese fondue, naming it their national dish in 1930. As the story goes, fondue was invented in a French-speaking region of Switzerland in the 18th century as a way to use up stale bread and aged cheese during the winter months, when fresh food was scarce.

Oil fondues trace their beginnings to French vineyards. Workers who couldn’t break for their meals fried small pieces of meat in a communal pot of oil while working in the fields. A Swiss restaurateur, Konrad “Konni” Egli, is credited for popularizing the oil fondue, or fondue bourguignonne, in the 1960s in his Manhattan restaurant, Chalet Suisse. Egli is also said to be responsible for creating the chocolate fondue.

Though fondue is trendy now, it has gone in and out of fashion over the decades. But it really does have an enduring appeal, particularly at this time of year.

“It amazes me that it stays so popular, but I think it’s a lot like Monopoly,” says Jed Grieve, owner of Cook Culture stores in Victoria and Vancouver. “It’s a fun and familiar thing that generations can actively do together at the holidays. We sell very few sets from January to November, but we can’t keep them in stock in December.”

Fondue how-tos

Follow these simple steps when serving fondue at home for better results as well as safety.

Cheese fondue

Choose a sturdy enamelled cast iron pot (Staub and Le Creuset are both excellent options) for even heat distribution and safer handling. A large variety of cheese fondue recipes can be found via a quick Google, or turn to a trusted cookbook for a recipe that suits your preferences.

Most recipes call for a mixture of about 600 grams each of hard and semi-hard cheeses, up to two cups of beer or dry white wine, two tablespoons of traditional kirsch and a teaspoon of flour or cornstarch.

Begin by rubbing the inside of your pot with a cut clove of garlic. Mix the grated cheeses and warm the wine or beer on your stove-top over low heat. Heat the kirsch separately and stir in the flour or cornstarch. Gradually add the cheese mixture to the wine or beer. Stir constantly until the cheese melts. Add the kirsch/starch mixture and more warm liquid if mixture becomes too thick. Do not boil. Light the fuel (most fondue sets use Sterno or a gel fondue fuel; follow manufacturers’ instructions), and shift pot to its stand using oven mitts.

Cheese combinations to try:

• The classic Swiss blend: Emmentaler and Gruyère

• Dubliner and havarti

• Stilton and aged Canadian cheddar

• Fontina and brie

Dippers:

The sky’s the limit, but always avoid raw meats and seafood with cheese fondues.

• Day-old baguette, pumpernickel or rye bread

• Granny Smith apple chunks, seedless grapes and pear slices

• Par-boiled potato cubes

• Vegetables like broccoli, mushrooms, cauliflower and zucchini

• French gherkins and pickled onions

• Cooked meats, such as sliced chorizo or chunks of grilled beef tenderloin

Good to know:

• Don’t discard the delicious crust of cheese on the bottom of the pot. It can be easily pried out of the pot with a fondue fork and is worth fighting over with your dinner companions.

Hot oil fondue

Stainless steel pots transfer the heat from oils evenly, but be sure to choose a good-quality model for safety’s sake.

Fill your pot no more than one-third full with your chosen oil (peanut and vegetable oils work well). Carefully heat over low to medium until a cube of bread dropped into the oil turns golden brown in 30 seconds; do not let the oil smoke. (The correct temperature should be about 190 C or 375 F.) Move the pot to the fondue stand in the middle of a large table; maintain the heat to safely cook raw meat and seafood. (A thinly sliced piece of meat should cook to rare in 30 seconds, medium in 45 seconds and well done in 60 seconds.)

Sauces to try:

• Serve beef filet slices with a classic Béarnaise or Hollandaise sauce

• Top chicken pieces with a dollop of pesto and sundried tomato slices

• Dip pork chunks into a spicy Thai peanut sauce

• Partner chunks of vegetables with Dijon or sriracha mayonnaise

Good to know:

• Thinly sliver beef, chicken or seafood for faster cooking times

• Separate raw meats from vegetables and refrigerate prior to serving

• Discourage double dippers by setting the table with extra fondue forks, spoons, knives and forks and side plates

• For a lighter option, try a chicken, beef or vegetable broth instead of an oil

Chocolate fondue

Small ceramic pots work best for chocolate fondues; they ensure that their sweet, rich contents remain at a low simmer. Make a ganache on your stovetop by mixing chocolate and hot cream together in a bowl over a saucepan filled with water.

You can vary the proportions and types of chocolate and cream. Add flavourings such as vanilla, nuts, fruits and liqueurs to taste. Transfer the mixture to your fondue pot and place over a low heat, typically a candle, to avoid burning the chocolate.

Flavourings to try:

• Kahlua

• Grand Marnier

• Sea salt

• Candy cane

Dippers

• Chunks of firm fruit, such as pineapple, strawberries, pitted cherries, dried apricots and mandarin orange sections

• Bread, fruit cake or biscotti pieces

• Marshmallows, angel food cake pieces, pretzels and potato chips

Toppings

• Whipped cream

• Slivered almonds

• Chocolate shavings

• Ground nuts

Try before you buy

In Victoria, beginning in early November, Hotel Grand Pacific offers a special fondue menu with traditional cheese, broth and chocolate fondues. Choose a three-course fondue menu for $85 for two, or just try one of the following fondues with your meal:

Roasted Garlic Cheese Fondue: Raclette and Emmental cheese blend with kirsch and roasted garlic served with baguette, pears, Granny Smith apples, cornichons, grilled zucchini, and wine chorizo.

Chicken Hot Broth Fondue: A chicken stock broth, served with pieces of broccoli, baby Yukon Gold potatoes, prawns, seared sirloin, carrots, baby bok choy, chili onion sauce and charred green onion mayo.

Grand Marnier 70% Dark Chocolate Fondue: A rich dessert fondue, served with fresh fruit, house-made marshmallows, banana cake and whipped cream.

Where to buy

Fondue pots were ubiquitous in the 1960s and ‘70s, but they are a specialty item now, so it’s a good idea to call ahead before visiting a store to pick one up. Here are some options for in-person and online shopping in Victoria:

The Bay:

1150 Douglas Street, Victoria (250-385-1311)

3125 Douglas Street, Victoria (250-386-3322)

thebay.com

Cook Culture:

1317 Blanshard Street, Victoria (250-590-8161)

cookculture.com

The Fabulous Find Midcentury Furnishings:

538 Herald Street, Victoria (250-590-2550)

thefabulousfind.ca

Penna & Company Kitchen and Giftwares:

Broadmead Village Shopping Centre

777 Royal Oak Drive, Victoria, (250-727-2110)

pennakitchen.com

Trig Vintage:

546 Herald Street, Victoria (250-384-8084)

trigvintage.com

A huge thank you to Roshan Vickery for hosting our fondue party.

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

Like Boulevard Magazine on Facebook and follow them on Instagram

Arts and EntertainmentFoodFood and WineRecipe

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Aldergrove’s Shaelyn Lorensen won the 2019-2020 Youth Remembrance Contest with her artwork, held through the Legion National Foundation. (Shaelyn Lorensen/Special to The Star)
Aldergrove resident wins legion’s national youth remembrance art contest

Shaelyn Lorensen’s work is now on display at the National War Museum in Ottawa

Langley Rivermen forward Sean Bunting speeds away from Vernon defenders during the Rivermen’s 3-1 B.C. Hockey League win Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019 in Vernon. Bunting and fellow U.S.-born Rivermen player Hunter McCoy are now playing in the U.S. after the team opted for an all-Canadian line-up during the pandemic. (Black Press Media file)
Langley Rivermen go with all-Canadian roster during pandemic

Concerns about potential problems posed by U.S. during pandemic led to decision

Langley’s CARES cat shelter is holding an online fundraiser (file)
CARES cat shelter in Langley plans online fundraiser

Silent action aims to fill some of the gap created by COVID-19 cancellations

Barry Brinkwater with a chandelier from a real-life haunted house that has been added to the Brinkworth Dungeon at 22260 48th Ave (Dan Ferguson/Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Final year for Brinkworth Dungeon in Langley

Even bigger and better than previous editions for it’s last hurrah

Joseph Richards Group, which operates 25 restaurants, pubs, and establishments in the Lower Mainland – including several in Langley – was presented with a collaboration award from the chamber. (Special to Langley Advance Times)
Resilient Langley businesses lauded for their COVID twists

Langley chamber of commerce held its annual business award, but morphed it into a ‘community edition’

FILE – Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides the latest update on the COVID-19 pandemic in the province during a press conference in the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, October 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. shatters more COVID-19 records with 817 new cases, highest-ever weekend total

Three people have died over the past three reporting periods

Chilliwack-Kent MLA Laurie Throness watches the results on election night. The ex-Liberal’s tumultuous campaign and the narrow margin for victory ahead of the mail-in ballot count leaves the future of the riding’s seat in limbo for at least the next week. (Facebook/Laurie Throness)
B.C. VOTES 2020: Future for Throness uncertain as Chilliwack-Kent awaits results

Chilliwack-Kent candidate hopeful, resigned waiting on final count

B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson speaks during a drive-in car rally campaign stop at a tour bus operator, in Delta, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Andrew Wilkinson stepping down as B.C. Liberal leader

Will stay on until the next party leader is chosen

VicPD and B.C. Conservation Officer Service teamed up to free two bucks who were entangled in a fishing net and dragging a wheelbarrow sized piece of driftwood behind them. (VicPD)
VIDEO: Police, B.C. Conservation help two bucks caught in one fishing net

Bucks were also dragging a wheelbarrow sized piece of driftwood behind them

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A heavy police presence was spotted in Lumby, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. (Facebook)
Police situation leads to ‘hold and secure’ at North Okanagan school

Police call for social media blackout in ongoing incident

École de l’Anse-au-sable. (Google Maps)
COVID-19 outbreak forces closure of Kelowna school

The outbreak is the first within B.C.’s school system since classes resumed back in September

FILE – B.C. Lions and Toronto Argonauts owner, Senator David Braley speaks after the CFL announced Vancouver will host the 2014 Grey Cup championship football game during a news conference in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday March 8, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
BC Lions owner David Braley dead at 79

Braley had bought the CFL team prior to 1997 season

Most Read