With Winter on the way those fondue sets are coming out of the closet .
Most everyone has a fondue set (probably hidden in a cupboard right next to the lava lamp). But butchers, be informed, those sets are coming out of the closet as a renewed wave of interest hits the hippies of then and the yuppies of now.
Fondues were very popular in the 1950s through the 1970s, but declined in popularity throughout the 1980s and 1990s, although never entirely going out of fashion. Eventually “everything old is new again” and fondues are once again trendy.
It is surprising that they have fallen out of favour to begin with – the melted cheese, the bread, the crisp veggies, the succulent meat, the delicious sauces, the wine… The festive ambience – sitting around a sizzling pot with a group of intimate friends and dipping bite-sized meat cubes skewered onto an individual colour-coded fondue fork into hot oil…
Fondues are also enjoyable because every diner becomes his or her own personal chef as they cook whatever catches their fancy to a doneness of their preference. Best of all, even the host has fun because everything can be prepared ahead of time. Retrieving lost tidbits in the communal pot often leads to more merriment.
Fondue has its origins in the Swiss Alps, where it was developed as a way of using up hardened cheese. In the Alps, Swiss herders used a mixture of melted cheese and wine in an earthen pot and dipped pieces of bread into it. The French epicurean Jean Brillat-Savarin is praised for perfecting the dish and bringing it to the world. Brillat-Savarin’s method of preparing fondue was to mix together creamy scrambled eggs, butter and Gruyere cheese.
The meat fondue came about when, in 1952, Konrad Elgi, the chef-owner of Chalet Swiss Restaurant in New York, made a fondue with beef cubes cooked in hot oil. It became extremely popular and soon popped up in other restaurants across the globe. In the early 1960s Elgi noticed that many of his weight-conscious female clientele avoided his rich chocolate desserts and he consulted with his public relations expert. Elgi devised a chocolate fondue which he introduced in 1964 to the world on American Independence Day, 4 July.
Today, fondues still form part of the starter, main course, or the dessert of a meal. The modern cheese fondue – melted cheese served in a fondue pot with chunks of firm bread, apple and raw vegetables – is a traditional starter. Beef is a classic main course entry, but nowadays the use of pork, lamb, chicken or cocktail sausages have also become prevalent. A dessert fondue is traditionally served with marshmallows, cake squares, brownie chunks or strawberries dipped in hot chocolate.
A fondue is supposed to be a quick preparation, cooking and eating experience, so I was surprised to learn that the Americans, apart from the hot oil meat fondue (fondue Bourguignonne) we all know and love, are fond of broth-based fondues. As the meat in this instance takes so long to cook, broth-based fondues cannot, in my opinion, be classified as typical fondues, but rather as casserole dishes. The butcher, however, can promote meats that are suitable to both fondues and casseroles to reach a wider market.
Instead of leaving the cutting of meat into cubes to your customer, do it for them. Select tender meat cuts, trim all visible fat, remove all sinew and cut the meat into bite-size pieces, i.e. 2 cm wide. Packages can be labelled as fondue/casserole beef, lamb, pork or chicken.
The ideal cuts for fondue are:
beef: loin, fillets, rump – in fact, any type of steak, and small meatballs made from lean minced meat;
pork: tenderloin or cutlets;
lamb: deboned leg, lamb tenderloin;
poultry: boneless breast meat;
fish: fillets and shrimps.
Dips are an integral part of fondues. You can recommend these, many of which you may already stock:
For chicken: Béarnaise or Hollandaise sauce, honey-mustard, garlic-lemon;
For pork: mushroom, mustard, curry;
For lamb: garlic-cucumber, yoghurt and mint, sour cream;
For steak: creamy mustard, sour cream and horseradish, creamy Wasabi;
For meatballs: cottage cheese, guacamole, chilli.
You can market fondue cuts with the following very important tips for consumers:
* Keep meat refrigerated until use and separate different types of meat;
* Water increases splashing, so blot meat with paper towel before they are dipped into oil.
* Do not add salt to meat or veggies before dipping them into the oil as salt clouds the oil.
* Do not overfill the pot with oil. Filling it to 1/2 or 2/3 of its capacity is more than enough.
* Never move a pot filled with hot oil and be careful with electric pots, as the cord could get in the way.
* If too many forks are in the fondue pot at once, the oil temperature will quickly cool off.
* Meat will be cooked within a minute or so, but be careful with chicken or meatballs to ensure that the meat is thoroughly cooked.
The types of fondue oil include peanut, canola, vegetable, and grapeseed, but peanut oil or canola oil is recommended, as other oils have lower smoking points. If you keep sundries such as olive oil, make sure to keep these as well.