Monday, January 1, 2024

A Chef Bolek Fondue

Fondue originated in Switzerland, most likely in the Valais region through which the Rhone River flows in southern Switzerland. The tradition emerged as Swiss farm families gathered around a hearth over which they melted hardened cheese in a pot called a caquelon. The family members would then dip pieces of stale bread into the cheese, which softened the bread and made it easier to eat. It was a way for these poor farming families to make the most out of what little they had. 

Although originating as a cucina povera dish, fondue made its way into cookbooks, with the first known written recipe dating back to 1699. That recipe was published in a cookbook under the recipe name of Kass mit Wein zu Kochen or "to cook cheese with wine."  Fondue even made its way into the cookbooks for the Swiss military. Over time, the farm family tradition would be elevated beyond as a national dish of Switzerland (or so the Schweizerische Kaseunion - or Swiss Cheese Union - wanted everyone to believe because it would lead to the sale of more cheese).  And, as the dish spread across the world, it would take on new preparations and new ingredients.

Nothing says Switzerland like an "envelope" of Lipton's Onion Soup Mix.

Indeed, the passage of time gave rise to other versions of fondue. One popular one is fondue au chocolat, which involves dipping those food bites (usually bread, cheese or fruit) in a pot of melted chocolate. To be sure, my kids love chocolate fondue because they love anything that has a nice, chocolate coating. Another version is known as fondue bourguignonne, also known as beef fondue. The cheese or chocolate is replaced with hot oil, which is perfect for dipping bite sized pieces of your favorite protein or, on occasion, a vegetable or mushroom. 

Apparently, a guitar is required for fondue.

It is this latter version of fondue that became part of my family's New Year's Eve tradition. We would gather around a pot of hot oil, which was also encircled with dishes containing raw pieces of beef, chicken, sausage, mushrooms, broccoli and other foods. We pierced each bite and dipped it into the oil, becoming our own cook for a few minutes. Over the years, it became clear that dipping a bunch of things in hot peanut oil is not necessarily the healthiest way to ring in the New Year. So the tradition evolved to using vegetable broth, which cooked the food without the added consequence of clogging an artery. 

Fast forward to today, my beautiful Angel suggested that we have a fondue to ring in the new year. After clarifying that cheese and chocolate would not be involved, the Chef Bolek began to emerge. Rather than unhealthy oil or plain vegetable broth, what if I made a court bouillon for the fondue pot? A court bouillon is a flavorful liquid that is often used to poach proteins, such as fish or seafood. It would provide a healthy alternative in which I could control the ingredients and, by extension, the flavors. I quickly found a good court bouillon recipe as a starting point. Then my mind started thinking about the sauces. 

The tradition in my family, as is the tradition typically for a fondue bourguignonne, would be to serve about three to four sauces as part of the meal. These sauces typically included a Béarnaise sauce, a Bordelaise sauce, and, if I recall correctly, a horseradish sauce. However, I wanted to take those sauces to the next level. I wanted to serve sauces from around the world. So, for a Chef Bolek Fondue, I drew upon my experience and made the following sauces: 

Argentinian Chimichurri: I recently completed the Around the World in 80 Dishes challenge for Argentina, which had me prepare chimichurri in two different ways. I decided to prepare one of those chimichurris, because the garlicky sauce goes well with beef, chicken and vegetables.

Catalan Romesco Sauce: This sauce goes well with just about any food, with the smoked paprika, almonds and sherry vinegar providing different flavors for the meal. I borrowed from a recipe that I prepared more than ten years ago, but I will post a new one in the near future.  

Sri Lankan Lunu Miris: An extremely fiery sambol with three chiles and freshly ground black pepper from the cuisine that curries everything, which is why I love Sri Lankan food. This sauce is really just for me; it is too spicy for everyone else. I will post the recipe in the near future. 

Vietnamese Nuoc Cham: I have spent a lot of time this year learning about Vietnamese cuisine. I have become a huge fan of nuoc cham because of how it balances the different flavor elements. I used this recipe in which I paired the sauce with raw oysters in place of a mignonette. 

With these sauces, one has a fondue Chef Bolek style. The recipe for the court bouillon is set forth below. 


Recipe from Rouxbe


  • 5 cups cold water
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 2 ribs celery
  • 1 leek (white part only)
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon whole peppercorns (white or black)
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt (or to taste)
  • 1 sprig fresh parsley


Place the cold water and wine in a pot. Slice the celery into 1/8 inch slices. Cut the leek in half, wash, and thinly slice the white part. Dice the onion and add everything to the liquid. Cut the lemon and squeeze the juice into the liquid (keep the seeds out of the liquid). Add the bay leaf, peppercorns and parsley and bring to a simmer. Once the liquid comes to a simmer, turn off the heat. Cover with a lid and let steep for about 30 minutes. Strain the liquid and transfer to the fondue pot.  

Once the court bouillon is prepared, then it can be used for a fondue, with the sides served alongside all of the cut meats and vegetables. 


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