Fondue fad: Communal style of easy meal prep makes a comeback
It’s time to get fired up again about fondue.
The do-it-yourself communal cooking method that was a fad among home cooks in the 1970s is experiencing a resurgence of interest.
Fondue is said to have originated as far back as the 18th century in Switzerland, when it was used as a way to repurpose aged cheeses and dry bread for people with limited access to fresh foods in the winter. They would heat the cheese with wines and herbs and dip the bread into the mixture to soften it.
Today, fondue has been elevated to an interactive dining experience that brings families and friends together, bringing a new generation to the table.
“Millennials have really gotten into the social environment of fondue, giving it a new fan base,” said Chris Millsap, an operating partner of The Melting Pot fondue restaurant in Pittsburgh’s Station Square.
The restaurant recently underwent a renovation and move to its new location across the street from its former space in the Freight House Shops. Its new design features seating for 265 people with café-style casual dining at tables with burners and fondue pots and tabletop cast-iron grills offering the cook-it-yourself experience.
The Melting Pot also features a dedicated wine-tasting area, covered outdoor dining, private and semi-private dining areas and handcrafted, artisanal specialty cocktails.
“You can order family-style plattered cheeses and chocolate that is very communal,” Millsap says. “We encourage sharing.”
Also on the menu are protein options, including teriyaki-marinated sirloin, Memphis-style dry rub pork, peppercorn filet, chicken, scallops and lobster. There is dessert fondue with milk, dark or white chocolate for dipping a variety of sweet treats and fresh fruits.
Home fondue pots
For those who prefer to have their fondue experience at home, kitchenware stores have upped their game in the variety of home fondue sets available. Today’s choices range from single-burner and double-burner units to electric fondue pots with heating elements built into the base and a thermostat that adjusts to a range of temperatures.
Prices for fondue pots can vary, from a basic traditional pot set with fondue forks and fire-gel fuel container to more elaborate electric models with a built-in heating element and a thermostat with temperature settings.
A classy Mauviel Copper Fondue Pot with Stand handcrafted in France, featuring a stainless steel burner and bronze and copper base, is available from Williams Sonoma for $770. A less expensive cast-iron model, also made in France, has a suggested price of $457.
For home cooks looking for a less pricey alternative to get started in fondue cooking, a three-quart electric stainless steel fondue pot from Cuisinart sells for $42 at Walmart.
Here are a few recipes to get you started as a fondue chef. The first recipe, for classic Cheese Fondue, comes from celebrity chef Martha Stewart:
Makes 6 servings
8 ounces Gruyere cheese, cut into ¼-inch cubes (about 1 ¾ cups)
4 ounces aged Emmental cheese, cut into ¼-inch cubes (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ⁄ 8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 ⁄ 4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 1 ⁄ 3 cups medium-bodied white wine, such as riesling or sauvignon blanc
1 tablespoon kirsch (cherry brandy)
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Sourdough bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 8 cups), for serving
Assorted vegetables cut into pieces, for serving
Toss cheeses in a medium bowl with flour, cayenne pepper and white pepper to coat; set aside. Heat wine in a fondue pot over medium-low heat until it starts to bubble, about 5 minutes.
Stir in cheese mixture, a little at a time. Stir in kirsch. Continue to cook, stirring, until cheese has melted, up to 20 minutes. Stir in lemon juice. The mixture should be smooth and almost bubbling.
Transfer pot to its stand set over a burner. Serve immediately with bread and vegetables.
Sunny Anderson’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Fondue
Food Network host Sunny Anderson created a Peanut Butter Chocolate Fondue that only takes 15 minutes, featuring a chopped peanut topping. She likes to serve this fondue with pretzel sticks or bacon for a sweet-and-savory mash-up.
8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup peanut butter
1 ⁄ 2 cup heavy cream, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons cinnamon sugar
1 ⁄ 4 cup chopped toasted peanuts
In a medium pot over medium heat, add the chocolate chips, peanut butter, heavy cream, cinnamon sugar and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring until everything melts together. If needed, add a bit more heavy cream to loosen the mixture.
Pour into a fondue pot or slow cooker and top with the chopped nuts. Serve with pretzel sticks, bananas or bacon for dipping.
Poblano and Corn Queso Fundido (Fondue)
Here’s a unique twist on traditional fondue from Food Network chef Marcela Valladolid:
Makes 4 to 6 servings
3 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon butter
1 ⁄ 2 onion, thinly sliced
1 ⁄ 4 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 cup corn
6 poblano chilies, charred, stemmed, seeded and cut into strips (see Cook’s Note)
Corn tortillas, for serving
Fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish
In a medium pot, heat the chicken stock until boiling.
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the onions and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Season with a pinch of salt. Add the flour and sauté briefly. Add the simmering stock to the onion mixture and whisk until there are no lumps and the stock is fully incorporated.
Add the cheese and cook, whisking, until incorporated. Stir in the corn and poblanos.
Pour the mixture into a fondue pot and serve immediately with warm tortillas heated directly over a gas burner. Add cilantro leaves as a garnish and enjoy.
Cook’s Note: To char the chilies (or any fresh chili): Put the chilies over a gas flame or underneath the broiler and cook until they are blackened on all sides. Enclose them in a plastic bag and let stand for 10 minutes to steam, which will make them easier to peel.
This recipe from Betty Crocker Kitchens for a cheesy crab fondue appetizer can be served with hunks of French bread and is ready in just 30 minutes.
Makes 28 servings
2 cups shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese
2 (8-ounce) packages of cream cheese, softened
1 ⁄ 4 cup frozen stir-fry bell peppers and onions
1 ⁄ 2 cup dry white wine or milk
1 ⁄ 8 teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne)
3 (6-ounce) cans of crab meat, drained and cartilage removed
1 loaf (14 to 16 ounce) French bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
In 2-quart saucepan or chafing dish, heat all ingredients except crab meat and bread over medium heat, stirring constantly, until cheese is melted. Stir in crab meat. Pour into fondue pot or chafing dish to keep warm; dip will hold for 2 hours.
Spear bread cubes with fondue forks; dip into fondue. (If fondue becomes too thick, stir in a small amount of dry white wine or milk.)
This seafood dip is also great served with raw zucchini sticks, red bell pepper strips or blanched pea pods.
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.