Sunday, February 6, 2011

Cheese fondue

Brace yourself.  There's gonna be a lot of cheese.

I have a lot of Swiss cheese in my freezer.  When I say a lot, I mean like five pounds.  We're not big Swiss eaters and it came pretty often in the cheese portion of my CSA, so we've got plenty left over.  So it's time for fondue.

Step one: Give your fondue pot a good wipe down.  How long has that thing been in the basement?  There's an easy formula for this - take the number of years you've been married and subtract 1.  Unmarried folks, I just have to assume you don't have fondue pots.  How do people obtain fondue pots without wedding registries?

I hear you can do this with a non-fondue pot (what we call a pot) but I've never tried.  I imagine you can basically do the same thing, but then you're eating over the stove, and that's not the kind of thing I blog about.

Step two: find an extension cord.  Ok, I don't know how your dining room works, but seriously, this is a LUXURY FOOD, and you don't want to be huddled on chairs around an end table.  Or maybe you do.  Dim the lights and put out flowers.  Whatever.

What do I mean about a "luxury food"?  Well, the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans just came out, and it's a series of superlong documents, but best I can tell (ok, mostly from dairy industry press releases) we're supposed to eat three servings of low or nonfat dairy a day...  my cheese is not low or nonfat, is yours?  If so, don't make fondue with it.  Sprinkle it on an egg white omelet.

Ok, so if you've had no other dairy today, you get three servings of cheese (I'm simplifying, of course, because the guidelines really don't want us eating all our dairy as cheese).  I'm further simplifying, as I don't think the USDA should be advising people to eat dairy at all.  Also, I don't think the same folks in charge of farms and farm subsidies should be in charge of our diets.  But I'm getting away from the point, and cheese is by far my favorite food.

So if a serving of cheese is an ounce, you've got three ounces to play with.  Wait no, I'm about to discuss a pound of cheese.

A pound of cheese?  Yeah.  Like sixteen ounces?  Yeah. Like this.

I really wasn't worried about the small chunks.   It all melted together just fine.
How did I get to this ridiculous number? I Googled a few fondue recipes. I knew what I wanted to put in my fondue, but it had been years and I wanted to make sure I had the ratio right. In more than one place I read that it's a cup of liquid to two pounds of cheese for five people. Meaning that for the 2.5 people we eat like, we need a pound of cheese and a half cup of liquid and a Lipitor.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Get yourself all plugged in, and rub your pot with a cut piece of garlic.  I had no immediate plans for the remaining garlic, so I threw it in the stock bag.

my finger doesn't look like that in real life.  promise.
You need wine too.  I used pinot grigio, because it's what was open.  A half cup, plus a good squirt of lemon juice and set the fondue pot to simmer.  For me, this means turning the knob back and forth between 200 degrees and "warm" over and again.

yes, my fondue pot is warped from poor storage.  still works.
Shred your cheese. I used 3/4 lb of Swiss and the ends of my prized Dubliner, but you can use a lot of different combinations.  Toss your cheese with 1-2 tbsp flour, just to coat and keep it a little separated.  Mine, of course, clumped during the flouring process.

Then slowly add your cheese, stirring the whole time.  You want to keep the temperature just shy of bubbling.  

When you've got all your cheese incorporated and melty, add some cayenne.  Like this much.

Stir. If it gets too thick, add more wine (that's my answer to most things). You want it to be runny, rather than stringy.

Also have food with it, because cheese on a spoon is a little tedious.   I cut up broccoli and apples and bread, but you can use other stuff.  Asparagus is awesome, but that'll have to wait until summer.

the fondue fork goes from pot to plate, then use a different fork for the trip from plate to mouth
this looks like a bad idea for a salad
Dip food in cheese.

yes, that's a ton of box wine in the background
A note on portions.  I wouldn't make this in a smaller batch, I think it'd be hard to stir a thin coating and the risk of burning would increase.  But I would serve this same amount of cheese to more people (perhaps with additional, less heavy foods).  I would be comfortable serving this same amount to 4-6 people, depending on what else there was on the table.  We can eat cheese, we're pros, and we left about a third of it behind, knowing it'd be thrown out.

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