A Little History
Most food historians track the first fondues to Neuchâtel, a canton in Switzerland, in the 1600s. The basic Neuchâtel dish was embellished by different cooks according to their tastes and available ingredients, and before long the recipe traveled to other Swiss cantons and beyond. Servants introduced this dish to Switzerland's merchant and noble classes, who in turn offered it to visiting dignitaries from surrounding countries.
Traditional Swiss fondue includes the variations served in each of the cantons of the country. Most versions use two or more types of cheese — balancing flavor with fat content for the best taste and texture — plus wine, cider, or milk and other flavorings.
The best fondue cheeses are high-fat, low-moisture. Look for hard cheeses with a 45 percent fat content as the primary player in the fondue pot. After that, a semi-hard or semi-soft cheese can be added for flavor.
Mongolian barbecue, or firepot, is a feature in many Chinese restaurants around the world. The setup, which hasn't changed much over the centuries, usually consists of a doughnut-shaped fondue pot heated by a central chimney. In the chimney are hot coals. Beef broth simmers in the outer ring, and diners use chopsticks to dunk slivers of beef and scallions. Soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and mustard and chili sauces might accompany the dish.
In many Chinese families, hot pot is a popular dish to celebrate the Chinese New Year. In northern cities, noodles and flour dumplings are a likely accompaniment. In the south, steamy bowls of white rice will be passed around the table.
However, this is only one style of hot pot. A few hundred years into the first millennium the hot pot, or “steamboat,” tradition moved south, with homes and gathering places in many regions of Asia embracing the concept of a steamy copper kettle of broth, sometimes in a chimney pot, sometimes situated in a recessed coal pit at the center of a table, ready to provide a hot meal.
Swinging Sixties Fondue Americana
Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin is credited with serving the first fondue in America. The nineteenth-century author of
The next round of fondue fever came in the late 1950s. Konrad Egli, chef of New York's Swiss Chalet restaurant, added Fondue Bourguignon to his menu and introduced Americans to the practice of communal cooking and the exquisite flavor of ultra-tender beef cooked in hot oil. At the same time, post-World War II jet-setters and corporate climbers were busy traveling the world. After sampling cheese fondues at Swiss lodges, the businesspeople developed a taste for it, so they brought the recipes back to their estates and newly minted subdivisions.
Chocolate fondue is America's very own indigenous fondue dish. In 1964, Konrad Egli melted Swiss chocolate with cream in his New York restaurant and served it as a fondue-style dessert. From then on, hosts in the United States began to serve every sort of cheese fondue, from authentic Swiss recipes to Velveeta dip, then brought out another pot for angel food cake dipped in chocolate fondue.