Cooking Fondue — from Stovetop to Table
A common misconception is that all the cooking for fondue takes place at the table. In reality, fondue burners can't compete with the kitchen stove. Fondue sets aren't designed to melt cheese or bring oil to the high temperatures needed for deep-frying food. With a few exceptions — such as electric fondue pots and traditional Asian hot pots — preparing fondue is a two-part process. The first stage takes place in the kitchen, over the stovetop element.
Whether more than one pot must be used depends on the type of fondue being prepared. For example, oil is normally heated right in the fondue pot on the stove element. By contrast, cheese is melted in a saucepan and then transferred to the fondue pot.
As for broth, it all depends on how much is needed. Twelve cups of broth — meant to keep the broth boiling away while feeding Mongolian hot pot to a crowd — obviously won't fit in a standard-sized fondue pot. It only makes sense to heat the broth in a large saucepan and refill the fondue pot throughout the meal as needed.
However, for smaller amounts, it's okay to heat the broth right in the fondue pot (provided the pot is designed to handle broth fondues) and transfer the pot containing the heated broth from the stove element to the table.
In the Kitchen
There is no question that the fondue pot is the centerpiece of any fondue party. However, it's also important to use the proper equipment while preparing food for the fondue. Curdled cheese, scorched chocolate, or improperly heated oil can ruin a fondue. It can be very frustrating to spend a large amount of money on quality chocolate or first-rate cheese from a cheese shop, only to have the food rendered inedible before it ever gets near the fondue pot.
Here are a few tips on what equipment to use when preparing food for a fondue.
First and foremost, never melt chocolate directly in a saucepan. If you have one, a double boiler is ideal for melting chocolate. Fill the bottom section up to the halfway point with boiling water, place the chocolate and melting liquid in the top half, and melt over low heat. If you don't have a double boiler, a metal bowl placed over a pot half-filled with barely simmering water works just as well.
Like chocolate, cheese scorches easily. In addition, overcooked cheese can develop a rubbery texture. Always use a heavy-bottomed metal saucepan when melting cheese, and cook slowly over low heat.
Finally, a candy or deep-fry thermometer is ideal for ensuring that the oil has reached the high temperatures needed for cooking. Ideally, the thermometer should have a clamp so you can clamp it on the side of the fondue pot. That way, you'll know when the oil is hot enough to serve the fondue, and you can gauge the temperature during cooking. Be prepared to take a break during the meal to reheat the oil on the stove if necessary.