Beef Fondue: Fondue Bourguignonne

By: Mark Wieser

In the summer of 1964, my mother, me and two of my sisters toured Europe. Our purpose was to meet my late father’s sister and relatives for the very first time. We knew practically nothing of her or her family. I had begun writing to my aunt (Tante Anna) shortly after my dad’s death in late 1960. Such correspondence opened a new world to us and introduced us to a family we had never known. Somehow, it was decided that we would spend the summer of ‘64 in Europe and meet Tante Anna and her family.

 My older sister, Jeanette, was in charge of arrangements which I discovered later were largely based on Frommer’s Europe on Five Dollars a Day. The book was remarkably helpful and with it and Jeanette’s knowledge we dined at many famous restaurants in London, Paris, Brussels, and the Netherlands before arriving at our intended rendezvous, a small town near Lake Constance, which is a large glacial lake located between Germany and Switzerland. This is where our father had been reared, earned his university degree, and had worked as an accountant and salesman until 1914.

 As for trying new things, Jeanette was always reminding us all that we should broaden our horizons—something to which her nieces – Jenny and Amy Wieser – can attest. Consequently, when we arrived to spend some time in Switzerland, Fondue Bourguignonne, or Beef Fondue, was very much on her mind and she knew just where to take us. We knew nothing of what to expect, but that meal is still very much etched in my mind. Our first fondue lunch in Lucerne lasted four hours and at its conclusion we had consumed four bottles of wine between the four of us—even our mother began to become a very good sport about it all after her second glass! We each immediately thereafter began our search for fondue pots and their necessary accoutrements to bring back home to our respective towns.

 There is difficulty in describing the history of Fondue Bourguignonne. Beef Bourguignonne is actually a way to prepare beef which originated in the Bourguignonne Region of France however Fondue Bourguignonne is an entirely different menu. One reference claimed that this was first prepared in New York City in 1956, but the Hotel duPort in Villeneuve, a town along Lake Geneva, quickly disputed that since they already had it on their menu in 1947. Despite conflicting and sketchy sources, it is definitely of Swiss origin—not French. And remarkably, a German company marketed the first cast iron tall pot that has become an icon in Swiss homes. Unlike Cheese Fondue, which seems to be more widely known, where everything is covered in cheese, Beef Fondue is done with a pot of extremely hot oil that you dip cubed beef into to cook right at the table. It had a relatively short lived hey-day here in the US, but sadly, Beef Fondue has been falling out of favor among Americans since the 1970s. It is just too time-consuming of a meal for most people I guess.

Having Fondue immediately became a popular thing in our home, but we rarely called it by its proper name— Fondue Bourguignonne. “Fondue” was all we needed to know, and beef was always our most popular choice. One can do chicken and even fish, but why? One can insist on using ribeye, but a thick round steak will do just as nicely. Later we discovered other things could be fried in the oil as we enjoyed our steak—broccoli, cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, small red potatoes, just to list a few—even those tiny onions!

 When it came to making the sauces that we had enjoyed in Lucerne, a challenging problem arose. The most outstanding one of them all was a Béarnaise Sauce, a sauce made of clarified butter emulsified in egg yolks and white wine. It is the traditional sauce to serve with Fondue Bourguignonne. My sister was good at making it, but I never even attempted it. It is quite difficult.

Luckily, I soon discovered a sauce called Blender Fondue Sauce which appeared in a Sunday supplement to our San Antonio Light newspaper soon after our returning home. I still make it to this day—seems I am the only one to have memorized it. Through the years we have also discovered that any number of our Fischer & Wieser jams, jellies, preserves and sauces work excellently as dipping sauces as well—particularly our Peach Honey and our Original Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce™. To hell with all the struggle to make the Béarnaise Sauce—one false slip and those eggs called for in its preparation can fry before you know it—ruining the sauce.

To this day Fondue remains a family favorite with us. We introduced it early on to the Fischer kids. Of course we had to work through some late dinners with a few tears accompanied by “I’m starving!” but they survived. Fondue does requires some effort to prepare, but the anticipation of knowing that it brings a family together for a meal is so well worth it. One will create memories that last. Sadly, as the kids all went away to school one by one, the frequency of wanting to take on the effort to have fondue diminished. But last fall, Case, two of his children Elle and Simon, and I went to Europe to surprise Tante Anna’s daughter for her 95 birthday. While we were there, we spent time in Switzerland and enjoyed Fondue Bourguignonne and an array of special sauces, including and still our favorite, Béarnaise, three days in a row – still the best place in the world to savor it.

A word of caution: Fondue works well for 4 or 5 persons—no more! Get a second pot if the number of your guests exceed that. And, it is considered very rude if one tries to fry more than one piece of meat on one’s fork. Be considerate—too much meat in the pot at one time will quickly cool the oil.

1-pound choice Round Steak per person.
Olive Oil – enough to fill 2/3 of your fondue pot
Vegetables (your choice or none at all)
cherry Tomatoes
¼ to ½ head Broccoli
baby potatoes
bell pepper
1-can Sterno™ -depending on the size your fondue set requires. Or, yours might even require alcohol as its source of heat.

Cut the raw round steak into 1-inch cubes.
Divide equally among your guests-each should have their own dish set at their place.
Heat the olive oil on your stove before bringing to the table.*

Prepare for each guest a small bowl of each of the ingredients you wish to cook at the table.
Each guest should have their own, long fondue fork with which to fry their meat and vegetables.
The sauce below, and other dips can be served in a large bowl or creamer and passed if desired.
*Caution each guest NOT to eat directly from their fondue fork, but to put the fried piece of steak on their plates first!

Blender Fondue Sauce
1-pint Miracle Whip™ Salad Dressing*
6 scallions
1 tbsp Tarragon leaves
1 tsp Tarragon Vinegar
¼ tsp Tarragon Mustard Powder
Dash of Tabasco Sauce

Give the tarragon leaves a moment to soak in the tarragon vinegar before blending.
Pulse the washed and peeled scallions in a blender.
Then add the balance of the ingredients and blend until creamy smooth.
Chill thoroughly until serving.
*Mayonnaise without lemon is acceptable, but my favorite will always be Miracle Whip.™
Other Suggested Sauces from Fischer & Wieser to use:
          Peach Honey
          Old Fashioned Peach Preserves
          The Original Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce™

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