Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fondue Theory

Sorry for my absence, all 2 of you who read this thing. Does it count as Slacker Gourmet if I come and post about gourmet meals after slacking off for months?

Tonight, I would like to talk about fondue - specifically cheese fondue. What? Fondue isn't Slacker Gourmet, you say... it's tricky and fancy, not to mention reeking of the swinging, gold chain, overly-chest-haired '70s! Ah... but it's really not as hard as it sounds, if you have the right tools (like an electric fondue pot and a food processor with a shredding disk)!

The aim of this post isn't to give the end-all, be-all of cheese fondue recipes, but rather to advance a basic theory I cobbled together based on watching the For Whom the Cheese Melts episode of Good Eats, reading the fondue recipes in Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, and general web research.

Basic Cheese Fondue Recipe
Serves 2-3

Special (Slacker Gourmet Encouraged) Tools
  • Food processor with a shredding disk
  • Electric fondue pot
  • 16 oz smooth melting cheese (notice I said cheese, not cheeze... Velveeta is a fon-don't!)
  • 1 cup liquid (preferably wine, beer, or hard cider, though apple juice would probably work as a non-alcoholic option)
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1/2 clove of garlic
Shred the cheese in the food processor. Put it in a gallon Ziploc bag and toss the cornstarch in with it, seal it up, and shake it all about until the cornstarch is well-integrated and the cheese isn't sticking together too badly.

Rub down the bottom and up the sides of the fondue pot with the cut side of the garlic clove, then discard. Turn the fondue pot on between Warm and 200°F, and add the liquid. You want it to come to a simmer, so play with the temperature dial till it is just simmering - not boiling.

When the liquid is simmering, start adding the cheese, a handful at a time and stir with a wooden spoon. When each inclusion of cheese is fully melted and integrated, add the next handful. For this amount of cheese, the melting and stirring process should only take about 5-10 minutes altogether.

Once all of the cheese is in, if the fondue coats the back of the spoon but still seems semi-liquidy, you're all set - pop the dial back down to Warm and get ready to dig in! If the mixture is too loose, add some more cheese, or if it's too thick, add some more liquid.

This is the basic formula I followed tonight when making fondue for the first time. The shredding disk for the food processor is highly recommended, unless you're the one person in the world that enjoys shredding cheese with a box grater. Likewise, the electric fondue pot saves multiple steps and the headache of making sure the fondue doesn't congeal or burn during consumption.

What about pre-shredded cheese from the store, you say? Well... I haven't tried it, but since this post is all about the theory... if you can find pre-shredded mellow cheeses as your base (Swiss or similar), then try it out! Pre-shredded cheeses already have anti-caking agents added though, so you may need to cut back or lose the cornstarch altogether.

Now, for the fun part...

Flavoring Theory

Traditionally, fondue is made with Emmental and Gruyere. I like this combo by itself, but it also seems to make a good base for fondues that will have an additional strongly-flavored cheese that will be the predominant note. When using a strongly-flavored cheese, try to keep it to 1/4 of the total weight of the cheese in the fondue.

For example, the fondue I made tonight was made with 4 oz Gorgonzola, and 6 oz each of Gruyere and Emmental, and the liquid used was champagne. I'm also theorizing that 4 oz of a sharp cheddar, 12 oz of milder melting cheeses, and either stout or hard cider would turn out a completely different, yet still delicious fondue.

Other flavorings are completely optional at this point, but could be added right after all of the cheese is integrated - some examples include mustard, nutmeg, hot sauce... it's up to the flavor profile you're going for.


So, you have a cheese fondue. What do you dip in it, besides the old standard of bread? Again, this all depends on what kind of fondue you're going for.

A traditional fondue lends itself well to all manner of raw veggies and fruits (though, for the raw veggies, you may want to blanch some of the more cruciferous ones, like broccoli and cauliflower). The Gorgonzola fondue I mentioned earlier was fantastic with grapes, pears and apples. A cheddar-stout-mustard fondue would probably be wonderful with oven-baked soft pretzels. Really, the sky's the limit, though I would stop short of dipping your old socks into the fondue, even if you're convinced it would still taste reeeeeeeaaaalllllly goooooood.

Hopefully this convinces you that fondue can be within the Slacker Gourmet's reach, at least for a special occasion (since eating that much cheese on a regular basis would probably ensure that you wouldn't be eating anything, much less fondue, for much longer!).

However, there are other fondues that are more healthy and appropriate for weeknight dinners... <AltonBrown>but that's another post.</AltonBrown>