Although its roots go back for centuries, fondue as it is known today is a relatively recent development. The common cheese variety dates from the late 19th century, and beef fondue only from the 1950s. Beef fondue, also known as "fondue Bourguignonne," consists of beef and various accompaniments skewered on small forks and cooked quickly in hot oil, in a communal pot. Some recipes call for half butter and half oil, but more often a single oil with a high smoke point, like peanut oil or grapeseed oil, is called for.
The oil for beef fondue should be neutral in flavor and have a high smoke point. Peanut oil and grapeseed oil meet both of these criteria. Using grapeseed oil avoids the necessity of asking your guests about nut allergies. Canola oil and sunflower oil are also appropriate. Mid-oleic sunflower oil is resistant to breaking down when used as a frying oil. If butter and oil are used, heat them gently until the butter has stopped foaming, then transfer the hot fat to your fondue pot. The working temperature should be 375 degrees.
Beef for fondue should be tender, at least as tender as a good grilling steak. Tenderloin is an excellent choice, as are the strip and the better sirloin cuts. Trim away all visible fat and connective tissue, then cut the beef into small cubes or strips. Strips will cook more quickly, but cubes will remain juicier. Impale the beef on fondue forks or skewers, and heat it in the hot oil until cooked through. This will usually take two to three minutes. Remove the beef from the fork before eating, as the metal forks will be very hot.
A meal consisting of just beef is rather plain, and a casual meal like fondue is no exception. Serve each guest a few pieces of par-cooked potato or baby potatoes, blanched pearl onions, sweet pepper spears, mushrooms or other appropriate vegetables. These are cooked in the same manner as the meat, by immersing them in the hot oil. Other meats, such as chicken, sausage slices or small meatballs, can also be served. Aside from the fondue items, a crisp green salad makes an excellent side dish.
It is customary to serve three sauces with fondue, though that number can be higher if desired. Three common choices are a creamy horseradish sauce, mustard-based sauces and bearnaise, which is essentially hollandaise sauce with tarragon and tarragon vinegar added. These can be supplemented by any other sauce or condiment you choose, whether homemade or purchased. If you are serving vegetables as part of your fondue, remember to include at least one sauce that is appropriate for them.
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