Fondues (and Fon-don'ts)
Fondue Set It seems that we all have a family member with a fondue set gathering dust in their cupboards or basement. Goodness knows that as a society, we are more appreciative than ever of dipping endless goodies into vats of...
It seems that we all have a family member with a fondue set gathering dust in their cupboards or basement. Goodness knows that as a society, we are more appreciative than ever of dipping endless goodies into vats of cheese, chocolate, or powerfully flavored broth. So why the gathering of dust on these fondue sets rather than gatherings of friends around them?
It may be that a good number of these sets have thirty-year old remnants of burnt cheese encrusted on their bottoms or ill-memories of undercooked shrimp or burnt chocolate associated with them. Truthfully, fondue is one of the simplest dishes there is...which makes it that much easier to screw up and for your guests to notice it. Nonetheless, as with most culinary adventures, half the battle is getting your equipment to do the work for you.
Cheese and chocolate are both a wee bit fickle when it comes to heat. They like to be gently wooed to their melting points then pushed no further. However, they also like to lax back into their more solid and less dipping-friendly states. So what's the best way to keep your fondue dips at the magic melting point? Well, a tea candle certainly isn't going to cut it. So many off-the-shelf fondue sets feature a candle hardly powerful enough to toast a marshmallow, let alone keep your cheese and chocolate creamy. Additionally, it will never keep your broth hot enough to cook raw beef or shrimp. Unless you'd like to pass your evening in the loo due to food poisoning, pass on these models. On the other side of the spectrum, a turbo-charged heat source can result in scorched cheese or chocolate that will be molecularly bonded to the bottom of your pot for all of eternity.
The best fondue sets will have a removable pot that can be put directly on your stove to initially heat your cheese, chocolate, or broth. The set will then feature a heating element of chafing fuel. Look for a reservoir that can either be easily refilled or will fit a standard tin of the fuel. Additionally, the best sets will have a cover to go over the fuel with adjustable holes in it that look much like the vent on top of a charcoal grill. As with the grill, the opening and closing of these vents adjusts the amount of oxygen fueling the fire, thus lowering or heightening the heat. The addition of this one small cover will prevent the onslaught of heating and cooling woes.
For cleaning purposes, it's also nice to have a removable top portion of the pot. Ideally, the top portion will also have grooves for the individual forks to rest in as your guests' goodies soak in the broth or soften up in the molten cheese and chocolate. To allow for continuous eating and enjoyment, consider purchasing an additional set of forks so guests can keep eating quicker cooking ingredients while cooking the more dense varieties. It is also inevitable that someone will loose their bite in the pot, and regardless of the superstitions associated with that, you'll want a slotted spoon handy to fish it out before it turns to mush and contaminates the pot for everyone else.
Fondue should be fun, not frustrating, and it can be with the right equipment. If you haven't decided whether you are a fondue fanatic and want to invest in a proper set yet, try it out with a double boiler and your standard kitchen fork. It's slightly less convenient for table service, and you can't let one drop of that water touch your chocolate or cheese less it seize into a ball of blech! But, it's a good place to start and then when you have fallen firmly in love with fondue, (and since it's bread and cake and sirloin dipped into all things delicious, it's a given that you will), you can invest into a well-made set as described above.
Until then, contact us for handy recipes, trouble-shooting tips, and help with other culinary treats you might be fond of.