Fondue, ideal for a casual dinner party, is the ultimate communal, do-it-yourself meal. Diners use long skewers or fondue forks to dip morsels of food into hot oil and then dress them up with sauce. Meat and vegetables are classic oil fondue dippers, but don't let that limit your imagination. Anything that can be cooked in hot oil is suitable. Do all of your prep work ahead of time, sit down and enjoy the meal with your guests.
1) Oils for Fondue
Since you'll be heating the oil to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, use an oil with a high smoke point such as sunflower, canola, peanut or grapeseed oil. Oil that exceeds its smoke point — the temperature at which it starts to smoke — can impart an unpleasant taste or smell.
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If your fondue pot doesn't have a dial that displays the temperature, or if you don't own a food thermometer, bring the oil to a low simmer. Test the oil by dropping in a bread cube. It should brown evenly in 20 to 30 seconds. The oil should bubble, but not spatter, when you add meat.
Use a separate fondue pot filled with a vegetable oil like canola if you're making fondue for vegans and a different fondue pot for the carnivores.
Beef, pork and chicken are traditional meats used in oil fondue recipes, but any boneless meat that holds its shape when cooked in hot oil will do. Trim the fat and cut the meat into bite-sized cubes. If you're using beef, choose a tender cut like sirloin, tenderloin or filet mignon. The one exception is classic fondue bourguignon, in which the beef is thinly sliced.
Cut down on the amount of binder you use for mini meatballs so they don't fall apart in the oil, or pre-bake them until they're almost done.
It should take about 30 seconds for rare beef, 35 to 40 seconds for medium, and up to a minute for well-done. Chicken and pork should be cooked through – about six to eight minutes, depending on the size of the cubes.
Plan on 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of meat for every six diners.
Your choice of vegetables depends entirely on your preferences. Choose at least three or four to provide variety and more if you're serving a crowd.
Vegetables like mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant and summer squash don't need to be blanched or steamed ahead of time. Precook denser vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, parsnips and potatoes until they're almost tender, or roast them for added flavor.
Cut cauliflower and broccoli into florets, cube potatoes and parsnips, and leave pearl onions whole. Core and stem bell peppers and cut them into squares.
Vegetables take about two to three minutes to cook in the hot oil.
4) Fish and Shellfish
Choose firm fish like tuna, swordfish or salmon for fondue. Debone the fish if necessary and cut it into 1-inch cubes.
Leave shrimp and scallops whole. Peel and devein the shrimp and pat scallops dry with paper towels. Clams, mussels and oysters should be removed from the shell and patted dry.
Fish and shellfish don't need to be precooked — they'll cook fully in a few minutes. Shrimp is done when it has turned pink — this takes about three to five minutes. Scallops should cook until they're opaque. Be careful not to overcook fish or shellfish; they can quickly become tough and rubbery.
Consider using a separate pot for the seafood, so you can dip the shellfish in tempura batter before frying. Tempura batter is lighter and thinner than pancake batter, and it cooks to a crispy crunch. You'll need a separate pot because bits of batter may fall off into the pot.
Set out a bowl of lemon slices for guests to squeeze over their cooked seafood.
Your favorite store-bought sauce is a fine accompaniment to your fondue if you're pressed for time or uncertain of your cooking chops. Steak sauce, hoisin, barbecue sauce, teriyaki and honey mustard are all readily available. Or, you can make your own with a few ingredients.
Satay is a Thai sauce served with chicken. Combine peanut butter, sugar, soy sauce and stock to make a creamy condiment.
Make a simple seafood cocktail sauce by combining ketchup and horseradish, or mix chopped pickle, lemon juice and mayonnaise for tartar sauce.
Satisfy garlic-loving guests with a simple aioli made from mashed garlic mixed with mayo, olive oil and lemon juice.
Set condiments out in small bowls, or serve them in squeeze bottles.
6) Hot Oil Fondue Menu Ideas
Choose side dishes that complement the fondue and provide a change from the deep-fried elements. Set out a basket of baguette slices and rolls, or play on the do-it-yourself theme with a loaf of pull-apart monkey bread.
Make an antipasto platter with olives, artichoke hearts, carrot and celery sticks, pickled vegetables and cheese.
Dress avocado slices, orange segments and sliced red onion with vinaigrette or make a simple green salad with crisp cucumber and quartered tomatoes. Serve cubed watermelon and cantaloupe, or make an undressed fruit salad for desert.
Use an ice cream scoop to put a mound of cooked rice or risotto on each diner's plate.
7) Fondue Prep
Cut the meat into pieces of about the same size, and season them with salt and pepper. Consider marinating the meat for two hours to tenderize it or brining the chicken to keep it moist while it's cooking.
Arrange the meat and vegetables on separate platters, and set out individual plates and fondue forks for your guests. Most fondue sets come with forks with different-colored spots at the end of the handles, so each guest knows which one is hers. If you don't have color-coded fondue forks, use markers to color the ends of bamboo skewers.
If you're preparing ahead of time, cover the meat and vegetable platters and put them in the fridge.
If you're in a hurry, you can heat the oil on the stove and transfer it to your fondue pot. Handle the hot oil with caution.
If you use metal skewers or fondue forks, do not eat the cooked food directly from the fork — the metal will be very hot. Make sure the skewers or forks are also covered on the end where it will be held. Usually fondue forks are made with this in mind.
Avoid cross-contamination by serving beef, pork and chicken on separate plates.
When you've finished your meal, let the oil cool completely before you discard it. This may take as long as two hours. You can store the oil by straining it through cheesecloth and keeping it in a dark container with a tight lid in the fridge. Use it within three months.
Don't overcrowd the fondue pot as this lowers the temperature of the oil so food takes longer to cook. Plan for one fondue pot for each four to six diners.
Make sure to ask your diners if they have any dietary restrictions. This will help you ensure that there are enough pots to go around, and that no one leaves feeling sick.
Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within two hours.
Don't use the same platter for cooked and uncooked meats.