fondueMost people think of fondue as bread dipped in hot cheese, or fruit into chocolate. But fondue bourguignonne involves cooking cubes of meat in hot oil.

The name indicates it’s a specialty of Burgundy, and those guys know gastronomy. But it’s typically French as well in the total lack of concern about a pot of hot oil on a table (and I’ve been at fondues where the table was less than stable), with a cord running between somebody’s legs and across the room, and nobody seems the least concerned that someone might trip and send boiling oil into the laps of half the diners. And the oil–vegetable oil like rapeseed–must be very hot, or else the meat doesn’t get a nice brown crust and instead comes out gray and soggy.

They are equally unconcerned about splatters. When the pot starts to thrum and gurgle, I am ready to head for the next room with a phone in hand so I can call the fire department and ambulance quickly. In Belgium 911 is 100, but in France, there’s no centralized number–you have to call fire (18)  and ambulance (15) separately. Just another reason to take precautions! Also, I make sure I know where the baking soda is.

A few months ago, after the Carnivore had cooked fries, we had a hot fat incident. Fries are the Carnivore’s domain. I have never in my life cooked them, partly out of terror of deep fryers, partly out of respect for my arteries. But the Carnivore is Belgian, and Belgians are the originators of French fries. I think all 11.2 million of them carry a chip on their collective shoulder over the fact that the French got credit for fries. It’s possibly the only thing the Wallons and Flamands agree on. When I moved to Brussels many eons ago, I actually saw, during my hunt for an apartment, many kitchens with BUILT-IN FRYERS. No stove, no fridge, no dishwasher–those must be supplied by the renter–but never fear, the fryer is as integrated in the apartment as the furnace or toilet.

So the Carnivore was in charge of fries, cooking them per Belgian regulations, with blanc de boeuf, or pure white beef fat, smuggled back from his homeland. The French cook fries in oil, which sends the Carnivore into paroxysms of horror. He cooks them in cow fat to almost done, then lets them rest for two or three minutes so the grease drips out, then cooks them again to brown. The result, I must admit, is excellent. Crisp on the outside, tender on the inside. I consider fries a waste of calories that could be better spent on chocolate, but I will eat his.

This is not Crisco.

We were blissfully stuffing our arteries faces when the fryer (turned off) started making strange noises. Now, our house is nothing like our rental apartments. It’s small and not grand at all and used to be the village showers, which means there was no kitchen. We stuck an open kitchen in a corner of the living room/dining room, which means it’s one of those oft-despised “great rooms,” despite its proportions being somewhat south of great.

Thanks to the layout,  we were extremely aware that something was going on with the fryer, yet a reassuring distance from it. Suddenly, POW! It exploded. Grease everywhere. The wall, the ceiling, the sofa whose back butts up against the kitchen counter–a not-so-great side effect of a great room is that cooking disasters have nothing to keep them from spilling into the living room. The kitchen floor was a patinoire of blanc de boeuf.

The mess was cleaned up, and we laid off frites for a while. The incident only reinforced my conviction that anything more than a tablespoon of oil/grease at a time is a deadly enterprise.

The meat–some of it. Why are there not more photos? Because we were eating!

The Carnivore’s mother, however, was known for her fondue bourguigonne, which she served at all family gatherings. This is a little like being known for one’s way with heating up frozen pizza or one’s skill at calling for takeout. With fondue bourguigonne, the host  goes to the butcher to buy meat and then heats up the oil. It’s up to the diners to cook their cubes of meat themselves.

Mother-in-law passed away a few years ago, but the tradition continues: we have fondue bourguignon every year at Christmas time. It’s considered a light interlude between the Gargantuan orgies of Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, not to mention all the visits to friends and relatives in between. “Light”: cubes of beef (or chicken, because I’m nearly a vegetarian but one can’t put water-laden vegetables in fondue bourguignonne, so chicken is almost the same thing, or so goes the logic), cooked in oil and served with cold rice mixed with parsley and cream, maybe a green salad, possibly fries (yes, fries and rice, which don’t add up to fried rice) and certainly a huge array of sauces, most notably cocktail sauce (ingredients: bourbon, mayonnaise and ketchup, with proportions in that order).

Parsleyed rice, with LOTS of heavy cream.

Sauces are another typically Belgian thing. The French mostly content themselves with mayonnaise or tartar sauce, and sometimes, if they want to put on American airs, ketchup. But the Belgians have aïoli, Andalouse (my favorite–spicy), barbecue, béarnaise, curry, Hawaiian, Samouraï, and more (yeah, aïoli is from the south of France, but you don’t see it on the menu with fries here). There are little stands everywhere devoted to frites, the way you see ice cream trucks or taco trucks in the U.S. Except these aren’t trucks. They might be storefronts or they might be makeshift shacks on the edge of a parking lot, the smell of grease wafting down the street. Friteries seem exempt from food and building inspection. The menu of sauces is longer than the menu of dishes, which usually consist of fries, fries or mitraillette–literally a machine gun, but in this case a long sandwich with kebab meat, a liter of sauce and FRIES INSIDE THE BAGUETTE! A heart attack on a plate wrapping paper.

A mitraillette. There is a baguette, meat and sauce under those fries. And possibly even raw vegetables like paper-thin slices of tomato and onion.

We had fondue bourguignon twice this holiday season. There was one mega-splatter, but luckily it hit only the empty chair of a niece who had gotten up to get something from the kitchen.

So if you have good health and home insurance, bad cooking skills and a penchant for danger, try fondue bourguigonne. Served with wine, of course!



32 thoughts on “Boiled in Oil

  1. When I was newly wed in the early 70’s, we used to entertain with fondue. We used two fondue pots, one with vegetable oil for beef and chicken, and one with cheese for bread dipping. We used an aioli type sauce and maybe one other for the meat. We added a salad and dessert, sometimes a chocolate fondue with fruit to complete the meal. Our fondue pots were heated with a can of sterno. We could adjust the temperature by adjusting the flame. We never had any oil spills or explosions, maybe a minor splatter, but none that I remember. I see vintage fondue pots at flea markets and antique stores occasionally and am tempted to recreate those dinners again.
    Nina in Michigan

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lordy that sound dangerous! I refuse to have a deep fat fryer in the house, full stop (Trev is not happy ) but my daughter has one of these funky modern electric ones that create a deep fried look and taste with just a spoonful of oil. The results are impressive and artery-kind also and I may be coerced into acquiring one at some point.
    For now I would just settle for a kitchen with a stove and a proper fridge and a complete floor …

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful story. We had fondue on New Years Eve at a friends home. There were eight of us. We started with a cheese fondue. We each had a small dish of Kirsch…dip in the bread and then into the bubbly cheese….yes wow….even though there was Kirsch already in the cheese mixture. After a respectable interval the cubed meat and another pot with broth to use for dipping scallops and shrimp. Of course there was wine to sip between mouthfuls. And yes we finished with chocolate fondue.

    The whole meal lasted four hours. . We did not last until midnight.


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  4. Fabulous post! I didn’t know about the rice salad thing — that sounds disgusting. However, the Carnivore is quite right that only beef dripping will do for chips. I rarely deep fry at home. I resent having to deal with all the used oil. An exploding deep fryer sounds like a nightmare! Belgians do superb chips (which is why I can’t understand why the chips in Quick, which I believe is a Belgian chain, are terrible — how can you be Belgian and not do good chips!?) I once nearly set fire to my house with a parafin burner doing fondue. The cloth under the burner caught fire and we were drunk. Fortunately no real damage done except scorched table and mat.

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      1. We went to Quick once in Chateauroux when we were there shopping. We were starving and it looked convenient. Well! Never again! The food was terrible, and it is the only place I have ever been in France where there were families of truly obese people stuffing their faces with this junk.

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  5. Hah, I have just done a survey among everyone I know about Fondue, whether they hate it or love it. My husband and I truly resent the thing, and I don’t mean the cheese version. And all because my aunt is famous for her fondues, And yes, she is the worst cook on earth, and maybe it is a mercy when she let’s us deep-fry our own dinner. Even the store-bought sauces are better than her sauces.
    We do use vegetables and coconut fat though on a grain-alcohol-burner. One year we used broth, but that was a fail (I guess? Don’t know, I hate fondue either way.)
    My aunt thinks its a charming way to spend an evening, nearly starving, stuffing yourself with bread and sauces, waiting for your three pieces of food on a stick to be done, only to find that one has fallen off and needs to be fished (haha, so funny, kiss your neighbour), then wait for it to cool and scoff it down and wait again… I even offered to cook dinner for everyone when I got the invite, but no, because that would mean we could spend the evening comfortably lounging with a glass of wine instead of at the dinner table with grease everywhere!
    (Rant over. I also wanted to mention 112.)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I can’t believe Belgian apartments came (come?) with built-in fryers. And I thought the South was bad! My husband’s family does fondue (steak) every year on New Year’s Eve. Considering there are 8 kids running around full speed and bumping the table every 0.2 seconds, it gets interesting. My father-in-law was the only one hit with a splatter this year (hey, he started the tradition). It’s a sweet time, but after we left this year, I had to go home and make a pb and j because I was still hungry!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You wouldn’t be hungry if you ate a pile of cold rice with cream (and parsley) while waiting for your steak cube to cook.
      I am surprised to find so many others who are subjected to fondue.


  7. Oh my goodness, this sounds interesting. I like cheese fondue but not this oil stuff you are taking about. It seems dangerous, like a lot of work and frankly there are so many other things to eat.

    Now the frites are another matter. I love them! I will even eat them in a sandwich as you mentioned. I hardly ever eat them but I do enjoy them. I had no idea that you did not use oil for all frites.

    Thanks for sharing your tales! I love reading about your life in France.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I absolutely love the french get togethers round the table where all manner of food is eaten and always enjoyable but I too have experienced the beef boiled in oil and it is quite scary but food is a very large part of french life.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I loved this post – you really had me laughing!! Not sure how I managed to miss it until today. Never mind, I love fondue, be it with meat or cheese!! We always use a spirit lamp and a fairly sturdy support for the pot (it’s a Le Creuset) and we’ve not had any mis-haps so far. For me the fun lies in the fact that it is so very slow – but it’s no good when you’re starving hungry.
    I also adore fries, but only eat them if I’m at a restaurant – much too problematic to make at home. On the occasions I have tried, the fat inevitably bubbled over, covering the entire stove… We had a mobile Friterie in the next village a few years ago, but the guy couldn’t make a go, seems that the French are not as keen on fries as the Belgians. But our local pizzeria does “Pain Americain”, which is exactly the same as the mitraillette. Only for sauces is a choice of mayo, ketchup or mustard.

    Liked by 1 person

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