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Fond Of Fondue

Chef Kaviraj Khialani speaks about the origins of and different ways to enjoy the mouth-watering Swiss cheese-wine concoction

Tired of working in the kitchen? Then bring fondue to the table. You need not wait for a party, or for family guests to arrive. Any time is the right time to cook at the table with fondue.

Fondues give menus seemingly new and exciting twists. When the idea originated long ago out of a desire to use hardened cheese and bread, the Swiss concocted a mouth-watering cheese-wine mixture. The cheese was melted in wine and the bread cubes were then dunked in the mixture. The name fondue came from the French word fondue, which means 'to melt'. Learning the how, why and what of cooking fondue is essential to produce exquisite fondue meals.

Types Of Fondue Pots

There are many fondue units available in the market today. Each includes a fondue pot, a stand on which the pot rests, and a burner for cooking or keeping the fondue mixture hot. Of the many shapes, sizes and colours available, fondue units may be grouped into three basic types: metal cookers, ceramic pots and dessert pots.

If you are seeking an all-purpose piece of equipment, the metal cooker is the most versatile fondue container because so many foods can be cooked in it. The materials most frequently used are stainless steel, plain and coloured aluminium, copper and sterling silver. Since metal can withstand very high temperatures, this container is best suited for fondues that must be cooked in hot oil - meat fondue, for example - and by turning the heat down, it is also appropriate for cheese or dessert fondue. Allow one fondue cooker for every four persons when serving a hot-oil fondue. The oil will not stay hot enough to cook the food when more than four people cook in the same container.

The attractively decorated ceramic, pottery, or earthenware pots most closely duplicate the original Swiss caquelon used for cheese fondue. Shaped like a shallow casserole dish with a handle, the pot's added surface area provides the room needed for swirling a cheese or sauce-type dessert fondue. The ceramic pot, however, should never be used for a hot-oil fondue, as the intensive heat will cause the pot to crack. A fondue pot of this style can efficiently serve six to eight at sit-down dinners and more at buffets since no actual tabletop cooking is involved.

Types Of Burners

Alcohol, canned heat and candles are the most common heat sources used in fondue units. However, the popularity of a thermostatically controlled electric burner is ever increasing. Candle warmers are applicable only to sauce-type dessert fondues as the heat is not sufficient to cook meat or cheese. Most burners provide some means of regulating the amount of heat released.

Fondue Accessories

In addition to the fondue unit, fondue forks or sturdy bamboo skewers are the only other necessity. Fondue plates are an added convenience but not indispensable.

The fondue fork consists of a long metal shaft with two or three tines at one end for spearing the food and a handle at the other end.

By providing separate compartments for each food, fondue plates eliminate the inter-mingling of various sauces. Whether china, pottery or plastic, these plates, available in a wide colour assortment, can add a stunning touch to the table setting.

Cooking It Up

The traditional fondue recipe in this section is Beef Fondue. Although also called Fondue Bourguignonne (Fondue Burgundian), its connection with Burgundy, a region of France, or Burgundy wine is obscure. Beef Fondue consists of beef cubes cooked in hot oil and then dipped in a zesty sauce. Similar fondues substitute other meat, fish, or seafood for beef.

When planning a fondue meal, allow one eight-pound trimmed, uncooked meat per person and a fondue cooker for every four people. Provide each person with a fondue fork, plate, dinner fork, napkin, and any other appointments needed for the rest of the meal. Simple accompaniments include a tossed salad, a light dessert and a beverage. For a heartier meal, add breads or cooked vegetables.

One to two hours before the meal, cut meat into bite-size pieces and allow them to come to room temperature. At serving time, heat the oil-filled pot over the range add salt to reduce spattering and transfer to the fondue burner. Salad oil is most frequently used for meat fondue. It is easy to use for cooking and does not flavour the food. Though less popular, peanut oil, a blend of about three parts oil to one part clarified butter, can also be used. Olive oil is sometimes used as well. Like salad oil, peanut oil does not flavour the meat. Olive oil's characteristic flavour carries over to the meat and it smokes more readily than the other oils.

Dipping Into The Cheese Pot

Originally a natural Swiss cheese melted in dry white wine it is essentially a Swiss concoction. The dish can introduce a multi-course meal of meat, vegetable, bread, salad and dessert, or stand as a main dish itself, by the addition of simple accompaniments, like relishes or salads, a beverage and a light dessert.

A cheese fondue is prepared right before serving. Wine and lemon juice is warmed in a heavy saucepan just below boiling point. Vigorous and constant stirring begins when the shredded cheeses, coated with cornstarch, are added a handful at a time. Apply enough heat to melt the cheeses, but not enough to boil them. Should separation occur, re-blend a separated mixture by combining one-tablespoon cornstarch with two tablespoons wine and stir into the fondue. The cheese-wine mixture is quickly transferred to the fondue pot.

Cheese Fondue Dippers

All dippers should be bite-sized. Cut bread cubes so that each has one crust. To estimate how many dippers are needed, consider appetites and accompanying dishes. Generally, one large loaf of French bread serves six to eight. Cooked meat and vegetable dippers are best served warm; raw vegetables best at room temperature. Other bite sized dippers include French bread, hard rolls, Italian bread, bread sticks, toasted rye or whole wheat bread, English muffins, cooked shrimp, chicken, or ham, cherry tomatoes, cooked artichokes, carrot slices, cooked mushrooms, celery or green pepper pieces, fried potato nuggets, french-fried potatoes, boiled potatoes etc.

(The author is the head of department, food production, Kohinoor College of Hotel Management and Catering Technology, Mumbai. He can be reached by e-mail at kaviraj21@hotmail.com)

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