Pros: Surprising variety and creativity
Rating: 5 out of 5
First published 4/18/2002
Previously published on Epinions.com
I’ve had a fondness for fondue ever since childhood. Mom and I used to make a beef fondue for dinner every year on my birthday, and I’ve loved the dish ever since. The problem is that the fondue cookbooks out there have always left me wanting at best, seriously unimpressed at worst. On the one hand, this is probably because fondue is, at its core, a very simple concept – you heat some stuff (oil, broth, cheese, chocolate) and dip some other stuff into it, perhaps further dipping your now-cooked dipper into a flavored dip of some kind. How can you get entire, full, creative new cookbooks out of something so simple?
On the other hand, why should a cookbook author write a cookbook if they don’t have some new and interesting ideas? Perhaps those authors should have passed on the task to someone with a brighter imagination – like Susan Fuller Slack, author of “Fondues & Hot Pots.”
First off, most fondue books are the size of a pamphlet, or slightly larger. This one is nearly full-sized, and a good 245 pages long. Ms. Slack certainly did not lack for ideas! To a certain extent she got so much further than other authors because she looked further than simple American and European cuisine, dipping (if you’ll excuse the pun) extensively into Oriental hot pot dishes, for example. The chapters include:
Cheese Fondue: In which she provides not only a wealth of information on the general topic, but also a wealth of recipes: Savory Camembert with Wild Mushrooms, White-Bean Fondue with Kasseri and Feta, Cheddar Melt with Smoked Salmon, Brie Fondue en Croustade, not to mention the Tofu Dill Dip and the Quick Strawberry Dip. There’s even an entire side-bar on how to “Jazz Up Your Basic Cheese Fondue.” Once you start playing with seasonings (2 teaspoons curry paste, 2-3 teaspoons grainy mustard, rehydrated dried mushrooms, minced prosciutto, and more), the possibilities become endless!
Broth-Based Fondues: Fondue Chinoise (amazingly delightful!), Lobster Pot Fondue with Kiwi-Mango Salsa, Peruvian Sea Bass with Inca-Gold Sauce, Venison Fondue with Dried Cherry and Port Sauce, Pork Fondue with Guacamole Sauce, and more!
Hot Oil Fondues: I long ago learned to use broth instead of oil – not just healthier, but usually more flavorful too. Still, Ms. Slack does set up a tempting array of oil-based fondues. She even includes the smoke points of various oils, so that you can pick one that won’t smoke and get nasty. She includes recipes such as: Argentine Beef Fondue with Chimichurri Sauce, Spicy Korean Meatball Fondue in Lettuce Wraps, Banana-and-Ginger Spring Rolls as dippers, Brie Fritters with Raspberry Cabernet Sauce, Tempura, Lamb Fondue with Banana-and-Cilantro Sauce, and much more. She uses the hot oil fondues to introduce some items that you simply couldn’t cook properly in a broth fondue.
Chinese Hot Pots: This chapter includes pointers to a number of recipes in this cookbook for appetizer and starter dishes to go with hot pot meals. Then it moves on to a section on Chinese Hot-Pot Etiquette, and the hot pots themselves: Vietnamese Beef and Rice Noodle Hot Pot, Vietnamese Beef Fondue with Indochine Sauce, Korean Steak Pot with Sesame Noodles, Five-Flavor Pork Balls as dippers, Chrysanthemum Pot, Cantonese Sha-Cha Hot Pot, and, as always, many more that I don’t list.
Nabemono: This chapter is about Japanese one-pot fondue-like dishes; it touches on Sukiyaki, Shabu Shabu, Oden, and more. It includes such dishes as Country Chicken Hot Pot (Tori Nabe), Salmon Hot Pot (Ishikari Nabe), and Riverbank Hot Pot (Dote Nabe).
Side Dishes for Fondues: This chapter includes such helpful sections as “can rice be cooked in advance?” It moves on to such wonderful dishes as Pecan Rice with Sausage and Sage, Roasted Potatoes with Fresh Herbs, Fragrant Coconut Rice, Baked Sweet Potatoes with Honey-Spice Butter, and Plum Blossom Sherbet.
Salads: Still more simple dishes to go along with fondues. Herbal Sushi Splash, Alpine Mushroom Salad, Vietnamese Table Salad, Arugula and Orange Salad with Blueberries and Lavender, and Hot and Spicy Thai Coleslaw – among others.
Breads and Beverages covers the drinks that go with fondue and the breads that get dipped into fondue (particularly cheese fondues). Herb Croutons, Melba Crisps, Cowboy Flat Bread, Sesame-Peanut Pockets (Shao-bing), Iced Lemongrass Tea, Hot Ginger Tea.
Condiments is all about the dips that are served with fondues, as well as other flavor-enhancing preparations. Sesame Sauce, Peanut-Orange Miso Sauce, Peppered Peanut Sauce, Apple-Raisin Sauce, Smoky Tomato Salsa, Fresh Mint Sauce, Spicy Creole Vinegar, Fresh Mayonnaise (with ten variations!), Green-Tea Salt, and much more!
Stocks and Soups covers the broths you’ll cook some of your fondues in. It mostly consists of basic stocks of all types (chicken, saffron chicken, beef, Asian beef, fish, and even a Thai coconut broth with lemongrass).
Dessert Fondues: Finally, one of my favorite sections! In most fondue “cookbooks” this would consist simply of a chocolate fondue. Not in this cookbook! There are seven chocolate fondues – not including the variations or the white chocolate & mascarpone fondue. There’s a Mulled Apple Cider Fondue, Green Tea-Ramisu, Creamy Brie and Pear Fondue, Hot Buttered-Rum Fondue, Tropical Lime Fondue, and Raspberry Coulis. That doesn’t include the dippers in this chapter – Coconut Logs (six variations!), Cheesecake Brownie Bites, and Hazelnut-Spice Dipping Cookies.
Variations and More
As if all that weren’t enough, Ms. Slack provides endless variations – on dips, on dippers, and on the fondues themselves. This means that there are even more recipes than at first you might suspect! Each fondue comes with a list of possible “foods for dipping,” some of which are simple (fruits, bread), others of which she provides recipes for (almond dipping cake – yum!). She provides pages and pages of sources for unusual equipment or ingredients, many of which include web page addresses.
The layout is fairly clean and obvious. My only (minor) gripe is the tendency of recipes to trail from one page onto the back (necessitating flipping around a bit). Other than that, I honestly can’t think of a single complaint!
Every recipe that we’ve tried from this cookbook has garnered a great big star next to its title – they’ve all been fantastic, delicious, and easy. It’s going to be a while before we stop with our current fondue-a-week plan!