25 October 2009
People who have visited me might know that I own more than 60 cookbooks. Yes, I collect them, yes, they are sorted by color, and what surprises most people: I read them. Really. From beginning to end. OK, not every single recipe, but I do open every page, look at every picture, read every recipe name and skim over the ingredient list and - once in a while - I read the entire recipe. If it sounds interesting, it gets a little pencil cross as a reminder. When I have the time (and the ingredients) I try a new recipe - and either the little cross will be erased (for example in the case of the cranberry brisket fiasco) or it gets a circle around it as sign of approval.
And if it was really good, I tend to make it over and over again. And at a certain point, I won't need the recipe anymore as I understand the ratios. As in the case with the cheese fondue: half the amount of wine as you want cheese - by weight (a pint's a pound, and a cup is half a pint). And regarding the cheese, that really depends on what you like and how much you can eat of it... My fondue cookbook says 100-150 g / 3.5-5 oz cheese per person, but in my family it's more like 200 g / 7 oz per person. We really like our cheese.
for 2 really hungry ones
1 loaf of your favorite bread
500 g / 1 pound hard cheese, eg Emmental and Gruyère (50/50)
250 ml / 1 cup white wine, eg Riesling
1 tablespoon corn starch
2 tablespoons kirsch (min. 40% alcohol)
1-2 garlic cloves
dash of nutmeg (freshly ground)
salt and pepper
This is a recipe where you really have to set up everything before you begin to cook: lay the table first, set up the rechaud, fill the burner and have your matches ready.
Then, grate the cheese - and here's a good rule for using the right cheeses in your fondue: if it is too soft to grate (for example a young Gouda), better not make it the main ingredient of your fondue or it will taste boring. And don't be afraid of throwing in the rest of Roquefort, Stilton or Parmesan that you might find in your fridge. I know, this will make half Switzerland cringe in horror, but one of the best fondues I had was made entirely of cheese rests I found in my fridge.
Next, measure your wine and mix the starch and kirsch to form a little slurry.
Then, cut the garlic clove in half and with the cut side, rub over the entire inside of your pot. Make sure every bit is covered in garlic juice. Personally, I don't think this is about taste, but about the oils covering the surface of the pot so that the cheese won't stick so much.
And regarding the pot: DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS IN A METAL POT. It sticks. It tastes awful. It gets too hot and burns. The cleaning is a mess. And worst of all: the scratching noise of metal forks on the metal pot. Makes my teeth hurt worse than scratching with your fingernails on a black board.
Better use an earthenware pot (mine has a special black bottom so that I can use it like a regular pot on my stovetop) or an enamel pot.
Last preparation step: cut up enough bread into bite-size chunks (1-inch cubes). I like a heartier bread with a thick crust and try to cut it so that every bit has crust on it. A French baguette would also be nice or a nut or rye bread.
So, everything ready and prepared? Have a look around and check. Everything there? Then let's cook.
Pour in the white wine into your pot, add the rest of the garlic (I like to crush it) as well as some nutmeg, salt and pepper. Start the heat on low, slowly turn up higher and wait until the wine boils.
As for the white wine: only use a wine you also like to drink. And in this case, aim for the more acidic varieties, like Riesling or Pinot Grigio. Stay away from Chardonnay. I've tried it and it tastes very strange.
This is the point where you will not be able to walk away, even for a few seconds.
When the wine boils, turn the heat down to medium-low, grab a handful of cheese and sprinkle it in. And always stir in the form of a number 8 or just back and forth through the middle. Never in circles or you'll end up with a big cheese blob floating in a milky wine solution - not very appetizing. Did I mention this is about getting an emulsion? You'll need fats and water getting the same temperature and to get them together you need to agitate/stir constantly.
When the first batch of cheese is melted, get the next handful of cheese, sprinkle it in and never stop stirring. Continue until you have used up all the cheese.
Now stir in the kirsch slurry, heat it up for another minute until the cheese mixture thickens up a bit. This step is entirely optional, but I think it tastes good and makes a nicer consistency.
Bring the pot to your table (you see, my earthenware pot is straight from the seventies), light the burner and start to eat. Once in a while, check the heat and that the bottom doesn't burn too much.
Dip in a piece of bread, let it cool for some seconds and put it directly into your mouth. Or sprinkle it with a bit of paprika powder. And yes, at the right you can see chili sauce - my husband likes everything on the hotter side (this will make all the Swiss cringe in horror even more).
You remembered to serve the white wine and a shot glass with kirsch, right?
This is for advanced fondue eaters: Before you dip the bread into the cheese, let it soak up a little bit of kirsch. Just for kicks.
When all the cheese is gone, you will see a dark brown circle at the bottom of the pot. Don't throw this out, this is the BEST part. Tradition says that the person who eats the crust has to do the dishes.
You might think this is a real chore getting all that gooey cheese out. It would be, if you started scrubbing right away. But if you fill the pot with cold water to the brim and let it soak over night, you can simply rinse out the cheese.