Fondue Fever

Karl Wells
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Stabbing bits of meat onto the end of a long fork and sticking them in a pot of scalding oil while five or six other people do the same thing - with the same pot - never seemed like my idea of a good time. That's not to say I wouldn't like the finished product, be it a beef, pork, cheese or chocolate fondue, au contraire.

It's just that I've always felt that at dinner parties the host should do the cooking and preferably beforehand. Apparently, in 2009, many people are taking a different view.

Stabbing bits of meat onto the end of a long fork and sticking them in a pot of scalding oil while five or six other people do the same thing - with the same pot - never seemed like my idea of a good time. That's not to say I wouldn't like the finished product, be it a beef, pork, cheese or chocolate fondue, au contraire.

It's just that I've always felt that at dinner parties the host should do the cooking and preferably beforehand. Apparently, in 2009, many people are taking a different view.

I thought the whole fondue phenomenon had died in the seventies along with yogurt makers, but like a phoenix it has risen from the ash of its spent fuel can. During Christmas, one of the local St. John's supermarket chains was selling electric fondue pots like hotcakes. A friend of mine bought five or six to give as gifts. (I'm still wondering why I didn't receive one.)

Recently I was sharing a New Year's nosh with some relatives and they were singing the praises of the fondue. They'd just come from a fondue party and were chattering most enthusiastically about how much they'd enjoyed cooking their own beef. I really didn't get it. What was so fascinating about that?

Invitation

My friend Stephanie was one of those fondue pot recipients. As a matter of fact she got two, one fuelled by electricity and another by flame. I told her I was puzzled by this new fever for the fondue. So, she invited me to her apartment to participate in an evening of fondue. "That way," she explained, I could "experience a fondue party" for myself.

I arrived on the night in question with an appetite and a bottle of wine. Stephanie reminded me that there is actually quite a bit of preparation involved on the part of the host or hostess, i.e. lots of chopping, peeling and slicing. She had arranged a pork and beef fondue as well as a chocolate fondue for dessert. Her new electric fondue pot was in place on the kitchen table and partially filled with vegetable oil.

When I saw the spread of food I started to get a little excited. Stephanie had done a super job of cutting up pork loin and sirloin beef in the most perfect cubes I've ever seen. There was a dish of sweet and sour dipping sauce for the pork, as well as sauces suitable for pork or beef - smoky barbecue and garlic, honey and soy.

Stabbing away

As soon as the oil was heated, we all took a plate and some of the beautiful tossed salad Stephanie had made to accompany the meat. Then all hands began stabbing away at the pork and beef cubes with fondue forks and placing them in the pot. The pot soon became a roiling one as bubbles escaped from the submerged pork and beef. The sound of the sizzling, the aromas and the obvious enjoyment people were taking in this do-it-yourself style meal created a pleasant party atmosphere. I was beginning to change my mind about fondue.

The meat literally cooked in seconds and was tender and juicy. The nice thing about cooking beef and pork yourself is that you can cook it to exactly the doneness you want. For me it took 20 seconds for the beef and 30 seconds for the pork. That was for medium doneness.

The various sauces available, especially the honey, garlic and soy, brought out wonderful flavour in the beef.

We ended with the chocolate fondue. Stephanie used the fondue pot heated by flame for this dessert. Chocolate does not require much heat for melting. She used a few bars of Lindt extra creamy milk chocolate. It tasted as good as it sounds. There were fresh strawberries for dipping, orange sections, banana slices and slices of kiwi. Fresh fruit combined with warm chocolate is as perfect a marriage as you'll find.

I have to admit that after experiencing Stephanie's fondue party, I found it to be a very pleasant and fun way to spend a few hours on a cold, dark Newfoundland winter evening. The communal aspect of the experience was an effective icebreaker. It brought about interesting and superbly entertaining dinner conversation. If you're looking to do something different for your next dinner party I recommend fondue.

Beef Fondue

Ingredients:

3 lbs sirloin steak

Romaine lettuce leaves

4 cups peanut oil (approx.)

Sauces for dipping

(See recipes below)

Method:

Trim all fat away from the steak and cut into one-inch cubes. Place cubes on a plate already decorated with the lettuce leaves.

Fill the fondue pot with oil to about three inches of depth and place on table. Set out serving plates, cutlery, napkins, sauces, fondue forks and beef.

Heat oil to 360 degrees. Guests may then stab a cube of the beef and cook it in the hot oil for anywhere from 30 seconds to one minute, depending on desired doneness. Remove cube to serving plate with a fork, add some sauce and enjoy beef with tossed salad and fresh buttered rolls.

Serves six.

Chutney with Soy

Ingredients:

1-cup chutney

Soy sauce

Method:

Place cup of your favourite brand of chutney in a bowl and stir through several drops of soy sauce. Serve in a dish as dip.

Peppery Barbecue Sauce

Ingredients:

1-cup barbecue sauce

Tabasco

Garlic salt

Method:

Place cup of your favourite brand of barbecue sauce in a bowl and stir through a few drops of Tabasco sauce and dashes of garlic salt.

Serve in a dish as dip.

Karl Wells is a restaurant panellist with enRoute and judge with the Cuisine Canada/University of Guelph Culinary Book Awards. He is also co-host of the Rogers TV show "One Chef One Critic." To reach him, log on to his website: www.karlwells.com.

Organizations: Cuisine Canada, University of Guelph

Geographic location: St. John's, Newfoundland

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  • william
    July 02, 2010 - 13:31

    fondues are always a rotation with ham for new years, been having them now on and off for the past 25 years, but just one minor change instead of oil, use consume beef broth flavoured to taste, then at the end of the evening place in the fridge, then you an excellent base for french onion soup the next day.

  • william
    July 01, 2010 - 20:19

    fondues are always a rotation with ham for new years, been having them now on and off for the past 25 years, but just one minor change instead of oil, use consume beef broth flavoured to taste, then at the end of the evening place in the fridge, then you an excellent base for french onion soup the next day.