Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Food as Time Travel: Classic Fondue

When the aliens landed in the 1950's and left us the gift of fondue (science fact), the Swiss jumped right on board the craze, everyone else took a little time. The Swiss chef Conrad Egli, himself an Alien, brought fondue to the New York restaurant Chalet Suisse and in a matter of a few short years everyone had a small tinny fondue set, or three.

Fondue comes from a French word that simply means "melted". A standard Neuchateloise recipe calls for Emmenthal and/or Gruyere, and the other favorite, the half-and-half fondue mixture, is still half Emmenthal and half Vacherin, as it has been for over a century. American fondue pots are by-and-large sad. The Swiss use a vessel called the caquelon, a big earthenware or metal pot with a handle. Treat yourself and go out and get a good one.

This classic recipe is measured per person.


2 1/2 fluid ounces dry white wine
5 1/2 ounces Emmental and Gruyere cheese, grated and mixed half and half
1 teaspoon cornstarch
A shake of pepper
A grind of fresh nutmeg
6 oz white bread (French bread / baguette or Italian bread by preference), cubed
1/2 fluid ounce Kirsch

Kirsch (also known as kirschwasser, "cherry water", is actually a Swiss cherry hootch. Clear and dry. Not cherry brandy. Most good liquor stores carry kirsch. Oh, if you're concerned about the alcohol in the kirschwasser (we are not), it will boil off during the process of cooking the fondue. The purpose of the kirsch is both for flavoring and to make the fondue more digestible, which can be an issue when you're eating something with so much cheese in it.

For the pot, you'll also need a clove of garlic.

To make the fondue:

Cut the clove of garlic in two and rub the inside of the pot, pan or caquelon with one or both the halves, depending on your preference. Then let the pot dry until the rubbed places feel tacky. Put the wine in the pot and bring it to a boil.

Slowly start adding cheese to the boiling wine, and stir constantly until each bit is dissolved, then add more. When all the cheese is in, stir the kirsch into the cornstarch well, then add the mixture to the cheese and keep stirring over the heat until the mixture comes to a boil again. Add freshly ground pepper and nutmeg to taste. Remove the dish to a chafing dish or a stand on top of a small live flame and keep it bubbling slowly. Bread should have been cubed -- about 1-inch cubes -- for spearing with fondue forks and stirring around in the cheese.

Do not drink water with fondue, -- it reacts unkindly in your stomach with the cheese and bread. Dry white wine or tea are the usual accompaniments. Another tradition: when you get full: a thimbleful of Kirsch, knocked straight back in the middle of the meal, usually magically produces more room if you're feeling full. It works.

Now get to it.