The perfect party dish-fondue lets your guests be their own personal chefs.
There's nothing as festive as a fondue party—sitting around a sizzling pot encircled by all kinds of delicious sauces and dips. Best of all, even the host can have fun because everything can be prepared ahead of time. Every diner becomes their own personal chef as they cook whatever catches their fancy.
A good heat source is needed for all types of fondue. A warmer fueled by tea lights is unsuitable (except in the case of the heat-sensitive chocolate fondue) because it doesn't get hot enough. Modern fondue pots contain a replaceable aluminum container that can be filled with sterno, which is easier to handle, less hazardous to use, and has less of an odor than old-fashioned alcohol burners. As an alternative, you can use electric hotplates and electric fondue pots, which allow you to adjust the temperature depending on the type of fondue you are making. For example, a cheese fondue should be kept at 185°F, a stock fondue at 212°F, and an oil fondue at 350°F.
An oil fondue requires a high temperature and, therefore, a pot made of a highly conductive material, such as cast-iron, stainless steel, or copper. The pot should narrow slightly at the top to prevent the oil or broth from spattering. For an oil fondue, it is wise to use a spatter guard that simultaneously serves as a fork holder. Be sure to read the manufacturer's instructions thoroughly before using a fondue pot.
Fondue forks are long and have 1-2 thin tines at the end. Ideally, the forks should be color-coded so that each diner can retrieve his or her own personal tidbit after it has finished cooking. Fondue forks are used only for cooking, so the diner won't burn his or her mouth after cooking the morsel; the food is eaten with regular silverware after being removed from the fondue fork. Provide 1-2 fondue forks for each person. A wide variety of fondue plates can be found in housewares stores. Most are divided into sections for meat, fish, vegetables, and sauces, but you can also use regular dinner plates.
Fondue oils must be heated to 350°F, because, especially in the case of meat, this temperature causes the food's pores to close quickly so that no juice can escape and no oil can penetrate. The most suitable oils are those you would use for deep-frying—odorless and flavorless vegetable-based oils such as sunflower oil, peanut oil, canola oil, or soybean oil. Butter, margarine, and cold-pressed oils should not be used for fondue, as they have very low smoke points. Fill the fondue pot halfway with oil, cover, and let it heat. To test the oil's temperature, insert the handle of a wooden spoon into the oil. If you see small bubbles forming around the handle, the oil is ready for cooking.
After the meal, when the oil has completely cooled, pour it through a paper coffee filter and store it in a cool, dark place. If strained properly, you can reuse the oil 1-2 times for a fondue or for deep-frying. When you dispose of oil, don't pour it down the drain. Instead, discard it in a proper container—an empty cardboard milk carton or used coffee tin are good choices.
Whether you're cooking meat, poultry, fish, vegetables, or fruits, be sure to use top-quality ingredients. For beef, choose fillets, loin cuts, rump, and any type of steak. For pork, choose tenderloin or cutlets. For poultry, use boneless breast meat. For seafood, choose fish fillets or peeled shrimp. Vegetables and fruits should be fresh, ripe, and free of holes or other blemishes.
Stock fondues, which originated in Asia, are fondues in which the ingredients are cooked in stock instead of oil. This type of fondue is steadily gaining in popularity in our part of the world because it unites simple, healthy cooking with interesting, ethnic flavors. Stock fondues can be prepared in a meat fondue pot, in a saucepan, or in a small wok. If you want to be truly authentic, you can serve it in a hot pot.
To ensure quick, even cooking, the ingredients for a stock fondue should be chopped as finely as possible.
To make thin strips and cubes: first cut meat, fish, and vegetables into thin slices, then stack the slices and cut them into thin strips. If desired, you can then cut the strips into cubes.
To ease cutting meat, wrap it well and place it in the freezer for about 1 hour. This will make the meat firm for cutting even pieces. For vegetables, the following general rule applies: When the vegetable has a soft texture (for example, mushrooms, snow peas, leeks, and green onions), the pieces should be left large. When the vegetable has a firm texture (for example, carrots, celery root, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and beans), the pieces need to be cut smaller and may need to be partially cooked (blanched).
If you have the time and the inclination, it's worth making your stock for fondue from scratch. You can even prepare it ahead of time and freeze it. If you're in a hurry, use good-quality, low-sodium stock from a can. The stock must be light so that the ingredients retain their unique flavor when cooked. While you're cooking the fondue, the stock will become so hearty that you can enjoy it after-wards as a light soup.
Basic Chicken Stock (about 6 cups)
Basic Meat Stock (about 6 cups):
If you're planning to serve fondue to a greater or lesser number of people than is specified in a recipe, here are a some guidelines for shopping. For each person, plan on: