Fondue has been in and out of fashion several times since it was first introduced in America in the 1950s. The concept is simple enough. Gather a group of friends, lay out the long forks, and spend a sociable evening dipping food into a warmed sauce or a cooking medium such as oil or broth. The fun, of course, is deciding what foods you'll dip, and what you'll dip them into.
Classic Cheese Fondue
The traditional Swiss-style fondue, with its wine and cheese sauce, is still a quintessential party food, an excuse for several friends to gather together and enjoy each other's company. The traditional food to dip is cubes of toasted bread, but many others are also suitable. Anything that will hold together on the fork, and taste good with cheese sauce, is the rule of thumb. Try it with steamed cauliflower or broccoli, roasted potatoes, apple wedges or cooked, breaded mushrooms. Bread sticks or pretzels are also suitable, though children might have to be warned about double-dipping.
Beef fondue is variously known as oil fondue or fondue bourguignonne. Instead of a cheese sauce, the pot contains either a neutral-flavored oil, such as grape-seed oil, or a mixture of oil and butter. Using fondue forks, diners pierce thin slices of a moderately tender cut of beef, such as sirloin tip, and cook it in the hot oil. A variety of dipping sauces are served along with the beef, for guests to use as they please. Suitable sides include tiny button mushrooms, pearl onions, strips of sweet bell peppers or slices of dried sausage.
Asian Hot Pot
A variation on the fondue theme is the Asian hot pot, often seen in Chinese or Mongolian restaurants. These pots are usually built in a donut shape around a central chimney, with a heat source underneath. The pot is filled with broth, and diners cook thinly sliced beef or vegetables in the broth. At the end of the evening, diners share the broth enriched by the flavors of all the dipped ingredients. Use thinly sliced beef, pork or chicken, uncooked shrimp, mushrooms, and any quick-cooking vegetables that appeal to you and your guests.
Chocolate fondue has become a mainstream group dessert, with major candy manufacturers turning out pre-packaged fondue mixes and even diminutive fondue sets, designed to be heated with a small candle. Chocolate fondue is easy to plan for: Ask yourself what you like with chocolate, and go get some! Strawberries, bananas and cherries are all excellent fruit options. Cubes of dense cake, such as pound cake or fruitcake, can be used if crumbs are not an issue. Foods that would not hold well on a fork, such as delicate cakes or berries, can be wrapped in strips of crepe before dipping.