Fondue, hotpot and shabu-shabu all refer to a dish that consists of a communal pot at the center of the diners where small pieces of meat, seafood, vegetables, fruit or bread are dipped.
Fondue is Swiss in origin (some say French); hotpot is Chinese; shabu-shabu is the Japanese version of the hotpot.
While the Asian communal hotpots contain simmering broth, the Swiss caquelon contains cheese melted in white wine. The fondue and the Chinese hotpot were originally peasant food. The Chinese hotpot has the longest history.
Mongolian hot pot was originated from northern nomadic tribes. The Mongolian version of the steaming feast has been called the father of all Chinese hot pot. The Chinese hot pot boasts a history of more than 1000 years and built its popularity during the Tang Dynasty…
Now, let’s move on to the fondue that we enjoyed for a small get together at home.
Fondue is the melted cheese; the pot is called caquelon
From personal observation, “fondue” is the term used to refer to the melted cheese, the pot and the practice of dunking pierced bread cubes in melted cheese.
Strictly speaking, fondue is — traditionally — the melted cheese and the pot in which it is melted is the caquelon.
I use the word “traditionally” because, today, there are such things as chocolate fondue, oil fondue and wine fondue.
Melted chocolate takes the place of cheese in chocolate fondue. Instead of bread, fruits are dunked in the gooey chocolate.
With meat fondue, the caquelon contains hot oil and skewered cubes of meat, beef in most cases, is dunked in the hot oil to sear. A variety of dipping sauces are served on the side to flavor the meat after searing.
Instead of melted cheese, chocolate or hot oil, seasoned wine, red or white, is heated for wine fondue. Pieces of meat and vegetables are cooked in it then garnished with sauce, like tartare or plain mustard, on the side.
The anatomy of the caquelon
The fondue pot, or caquelon, can be ceramic, porcelain, stoneware or cast iron. The bottom has to be thick enough to prevent scorching.
What kind of caquelon is best for home entertaining?
It depends on what kind of fondue you’re having. Cheese and chocolate require a lower temperature to maintain its liquid gooey state. Ceramic or porcelain will do.
But oil and wine need a higher temperature to cook meat. Cast iron or other non-reactive metal is more ideal.
Heating the fondue pot: tea candle or alcohol burner?
The heat underneath the fondue pot can be supplied by an alcohol burner or tea candle. In restaurants where large caquelons are used, larger burners are supplied to keep the heat of the fondue stable.
If you’re going to melt the cheese or chocolate on the stovetop and merely pouring it into the fondue pot to serve, a tea candle should suffice.
But if you’re going to melt the cheese or chocolate directly in the fondue pot, you will need an alcohol burner equipped to lower the flame after the cheese or chocolate has melted.
You will definitely need an alcohol burner or something similar for oil and wine fondue.
I have a group of friends from law school and we used to have cheese fondue on every get-together. It was the “assignment” of one of us to bring the caquelon with the burner and the cheese fondue itself. She would bring premixed cheese fondue available in deli stores. It was poured directly into the pot and warmed until gooey.
If, like me, you want more control and don’t mind the extra effort, you can make the cheese fondue from scratch — it’s just a mixture of high-acid white wine, cheese or a blend of cheeses, and a bit of garlic. Adding starch or flour for a smoother cheese fondue is optional.
Note that your choice of wine and cheeses will affect the final flavor of the cheese fondue.
What to dunk in cheese fondue?
Cubes of stale bread is traditional but we like sliced cooked sausages too.
Chocolate fondue is essentially… well, you have to make ganache. You just need to keep it warm enough to prevent the chocolate from hardening. I mean, you can’t dip anything on hardened chocolate, right?
What to dip in chocolate fondue?
- Fruits, cut into bite-size pieces.
- Toasted whole nuts.
- Cookies, cut into bite-size pieces.