Fondue has made quite a comeback in recent years. The word fondue comes from the French and means “to melt.” A simple style of cooking that only requires a pot warmed by burning oil or an electrical pad directly below. What goes in the pot is what makes it so interesting: small pieces of meat, toast, breads, fruits, vegetables, cheese, and chocolate are favourites for dipping, depending on the menu. What makes fondue so popular is that it is a very social meal, with the pot placed in the centre of the table and everyone is given skewers and a selection of meats, fruits, or cakes to dip in the fondue. In this way, guests can control what and how much they eat and as it is known as a “slow meal” there is plenty of time for conversation.
Fondue was created in Switzerland, a country known for its fine cheeses like Emmentaler and Gruyere, not to mention its famous chocolates. The Swiss consider fondue a winter dish to be shared among friends. Normally, for a cheese fondue, you are served cubes of bread, which are usually a day-old to give it some “weight” and soak up the fondue sauce. The best breads for dipping are either a sourdough or baguette. The cubes are then speared with a long fork and swirled through the cheese. Among the Swiss, there is a tradition. If you are enjoying fondue in a restaurant and lose your cube in the pot, the drinks are on you! Cheese fondues are considered an appetizer, but Swiss cheese is rich, so don’t eat too much or you will become full and miss enjoying the next course, which is usually a meat fondue. Different courses are served in different fondue pots.
Meats are prepared in hot oil and require a watchful eye. Guests should be aware that some splashing can occur and the pot must be placed on a flat surface to avoid any possibility of tipping. In fact, I would leave meat fondues as a summer dish, best prepared out-of-doors. In this way, you also avoid filling your dining room with the aroma of cooking oils and fumes.
Naturally, the Swiss gave a name to each of their fondues. Fondue chinoise involves dipping slivers of meat into spicy bouillon. Fondue bourguignon is only for the stoutest of constitutions since it involves dousing hefty chunks of red meat into hot spitting oil. Fondue restaurants have popped up all over the world. In Switzerland, fondue is never eaten alone and is never priced for one person. If you see the phrases “fondue B discrétion” or “fondue B gogo” on the menu, you’re in luck because they both mean “all you can eat.”
Fish fondues have also become popular in recent years. But for many people, chocolate fondue is at the top of the list. There is nothing like chunks of pound cake and fresh strawberries to whet the appetite.
With most fondue (except those for dessert), you can serve a mixed green salad or potato salad as a side dish. Fondue is usually served with either white wine or strong black tea. Sometimes, pickled gherkins and onions are also served. It is not recommended to drink cold water or fizzy drinks alongside a fondue, because this can lead to congealing of the cheese, forming a lump in the stomach. Remember always to use fresh ingredients and if serving a mixture of raw meat, seafood and chicken – keep them in separate containers and chilled. And remember one important piece of fondue etiquette. Never lick your fork as you are dipping it into a sauce that other people are sharing. In fondue restaurants, forks are usually colour-coded so your dining guest doesn’t end up with your fork in their mouth.
Classic Swiss Cheese Fondue
14 oz grated Gruyere cheese
1 – 10 cloves of garlic
14 oz grated Emmenthaler cheese
5 cups white wine
1 tbs. cornstarch
2 oz of kirsch liqueur
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Freshly ground nutmeg to taste
Cut a garlic clove in half and rub the inside of the fondue pot with it. Cut the rest of the garlic cloves coarsely. Mix the cornstarch in a bit of the cold wine and set aside. Add the rest of the wine and grated cheese to the fondue pot. Start to heat it slowly and stir it constantly. Now pour in the cornstarch mixture and continue to heat. It is extremely important to keep stirring all the time or you won’t get a creamy fondue. When the cheese fondue is creamy and has completely melted, add the Kirsch and season with nutmeg and pepper. At the table, use the long fondue forks. Dip cubes of bread into the cheese. Continue the stirring at the table; otherwise, the fondue will turn lumpy. If the fondue gets too runny, add another handful of cheese and let it cook on high heat, or add a little more diluted cornstarch. If it gets too thick, add a little more wine, lemon juice or Kirsch. If it starts to separate, then place it quickly back on the stove on high heat, stir briskly with a whisk and add a little more diluted cornstarch.
Variations. Mushroom fondue: fresh mushrooms are added to the basic fondue recipe above. Tomato fondue: tomato puree and diced tomato flesh (no seeds or peel) are added. Tuna fondue: drain a can of flaked tuna and add the basic fondue recipe. Shallot fondue: replace the garlic with shallots. Non-alcoholic version: replace the white wine with sour apple cider and the kirsch with lemon juice.
(Serves 4 to 6)
2 cups whipping cream
12 oz best quality dark chocolate 40-70%, chopped
1 tsp. rum – brandy or kirsch
Heat the cream in a medium-sized saucepan over a low heat for two to three minutes. Add the chocolate and stir until it has completely melted in with the cream. Stir in the alcohol. Transfer to a warm fondue pot. Serve the fondue with a plate of fresh strawberries, raspberries, bananas, marshmallows and almond biscotti.
(Serves six to eight people)
There’s nowhere to hide – Valentine’s Day approaches and the Saint’s legion of chubby-cheeked cherubs are aiming their arrows dipped in love, or even better, chocolate. The store shelves are stocked top to bottom with chocolate hearts, bonbons, and heart-shaped gift boxes.
Strength is defined as the capacity to break a soft chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands…and then eat just one piece!
But not all chocolate is created equal. So how do we separate the pretenders from the real thing? The word itself derives from the Aztec “xocolatl.” Xocolatl or chocolate is made from the cocoa (or cacao) bean, which is the fruit of the tropical tree Theobroma cacao. The tree is native to South America, and for centuries, it was an integral ingredient in South and Central American cuisine, especially Mexico, before it was exported to Europe and beyond.
There are actually three families of cacao trees, each with highly characteristic beans, like the varieties of grapes chosen for different wines. The criollo bean is of exceptional quality, highly aromatic, and not bitter and used in the preparation of Grand Cru chocolates. It is used by luxury chocolate makers around the world. Relatively rare, this tree is actually disappearing, and the chocolate is very expensive.
The forastero bean was originally harvested from the Upper Amazon. It has a very pronounced, full-bodied flavour. Today this ordinary cocoa bean is grown mainly in Africa. It accounts for 85% of the world’s production. The third variety, the trinitario bean, is the result of hybridization between the other two families and named for the island of Trinidad. It combines the delicate savour of the criollo and the force of the forastero.
A cacao tree can produce close to two thousand pods each year. The ridged, football- shaped pod, or fruit, grows from the branches and, oddly, straight out of the trunk. The pods, which mature throughout the year, encase a sticky white pulp and about 30 or 40 seeds. The pulp is both sweet and tart; it is eaten and used in making drinks. The fresh seeds, if you were to bite into one, are incredibly bitter.
Fermentation is the next step in creating chocolate, which alters the bitter flavours in the beans. After fermentation, the beans are dried in the sun for about a week. At the factory the cacao beans are roasted in large, rotating ovens, at temperatures of about 210-290F. The heat brings out more flavour and aroma, and it dries and darkens the beans. Then the cacao beans are cracked and winnowed, that is, their outer shells are cracked and blown away, leaving the crushed and broken pieces of cacao beans, called “nibs.” The cacao nibs are crushed and ground into a thick paste called chocolate liquor. Cocoa powder is created by removing the cocoa butter.
Chocolate liquor in itself is bitter and not very smooth or creamy. To sweeten it and improve the texture, the manufacturer will add sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla, and milk. Depending on the processing, dark/bitter, semi-dark or milk chocolate is created. This is where the quality of chocolate is determined. The purer the chocolate liquor or pure cacao powder used, the better the quality and the higher the price. Dark chocolate should contain a minimum of 50% cocoa solids. Milk chocolate should contain a minimum of 35% cocoa solids. Non cocoa-butter vegetable fats or “cocoa butter enhancers” or substitutes should not be used in the manufacture of chocolate. Sadly, these products often fill the store shelves on Valentine’s Day and at Easter.
We tend to think of chocolate as a sweet, but originally it was used in savoury dishes. Europeans started using it as a drink after it was imported in the 16th century. It was not made into “eating chocolate” until the 18th century; a process invented by Joseph Fry. In the early 19th century, Henri Nestle developed condensed milk, which was later added to the chocolate bar.
Chocolate is dangerous to pets, especially dogs because it contains a stimulant called theobromine, which they cannot digest. If your pet becomes ill after eating chocolate contact your vet immediately.
And to make us chocolate lovers happy here is some encouraging data. There is evidence that cocoa lowers blood pressure; it increases antioxidant levels in the blood; the aroma of chocolate increases theta brain waves, resulting in relaxation; drinking a cup of hot chocolate before meals reduces appetite; men who eat chocolate live a year longer than those who don’t; women who receive chocolate on Valentine’s Day will be your best friend forever, and, fourteen out of every ten people polled, love chocolate!
Red curried breast of chicken served with sweet potatoes and French petît Pois
4 chicken breasts
1 tbs. Pataka’s Tandori paste (red curry)
1 tbs. olive oil
One quarter cup orange juice
1 tbs. fresh cut ginger root
4 large sweet potatoes (peeled and cubed)
2 cups frozen, small sweet green peas
1 white salad onion (Spanish onion)
1 green leaf lettuce
Fresh thyme or basil leaves
Brush the chicken breasts with the red curry paste. In a skillet (one with a lid) gently sauté the chicken breasts in olive oil on both sides, then add orange juice. Cover and let simmer for 15 minutes. In a pot sauté the onion in olive oil until translucent, add the frozen green peas, cover, and let simmer for 5 minutes. You can add some fresh thyme or Basel as well. Just before serving, add sliced green lettuce. In another pot cook your cubed sweet potatoes, ginger root, basil and thyme in water for 15 minutes. Discharge the water and pure with a blender stick and add a tbs. olive oil. Serve the chicken breasts on a preheated plate with the sweet potato mix and the green peas.
Chocolate Mousse (no eggs)
Yields 6-8 servings 5 oz wine glasses
1 cup Chocolate chips (50-70% dark is best)
One quarter cup whipping cream (heated up in a double boiler)
One cup whipping cream, whipped
Prepare your glasses on a tray with a damp towel under, to avoid sliding off the tray. Heat one quarter whipping cream in a double broiler. Grate the Chocolate chips in a food processor, as they must be very fine. Add to the warm cream and mix well. Set aside to cool. When it is almost cold – but not too cold (then the chocolate mixture will be too firm) mix in the whipped cream with the hand mixer. Pour into the glasses, about an inch and a half from the rim. Immediately transfer into the fridge and let sit one hour before serving. Serve with whipping cream, raspberry sauce or fresh fruit and mint as garnish. You can also place a tablespoon of fruit (raspberries, strawberries or a mix of mashed bananas and raspberries in the bottom of the glass before filling with the chocolate mousse.