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Break up pandemic mealtime monotony with fondue

Cozy up at home this New Year's Eve with a scrumptious three-course fondue dinner that features gooey cheese, crusty bread, melted chocolate and more.
Swiss cheese fondue
With a hearty, cold-weather fondue you can break out of your routine, try something new and connect with your family and friends. TODAY Illustration / Getty Images

Most years, my family celebrates New Year’s Eve by inviting friends over for fondue. We gather and share melted cheese, crispy beef and chicken and a dessert of chocolate fondue before we ring in the new year at midnight.

This year, with COVID-19 still a threat, our guest list will be smaller. But even with less entertaining this winter, it can still be fun to get creative with homemade meals. And in winter, in particular, fondue is a great choice for a chilly night — not just New Year’s Eve. It’s fun, festive and social, since everyone gets to participate.

Enjoying cheesy bread together.Paul Thurrott

Depending on your outdoor set up, you might even be able to enjoy a socially distanced fondue dinner with friends. In the past, we’ve bundled up for outdoor fondue at a Boston restaurant on a chilly January night.

This year, I’m especially looking forward to hosting a communal Swiss fondue meal that’s not only easy to make but will break my pandemic dinnertime monotony — and bring my family together. Here’s how to make fondue.

First course: Crusty bread dipped in melted cheese

We typically start off our three-course dinner with a pot of warm, melted cheese fondue. We have a fondue pot that sits over a flame, but if you don’t have one, you can make your cheese fondue in a cast-iron pan and it’ll stay warm for about 15 minutes.

At our fondue dinners, everyone enjoys dipping cubed, crusty bread in the cheese. Sturdy raw veggies like carrots, broccoli and cauliflower are also good choices.

Pro tip: Ask someone to cut the bread into one-inch cubes while you’re preparing the cheese. (Cutting the bread too soon can cause it to turn dry by the time you’re ready to eat it.)

Beer and Cheddar Fondue

Beer and Cheddar Fondue

America's Test Kitchen

Second course: Beef and chicken cooked in oil

The midpoint of our fondue dinner is our meat course — beef and chicken cubes cooked at the tabletop until they’re golden brown and crispy.

We use peanut oil and heat it on the stovetop, and then carefully pour it into a clean fondue pot (it takes a long time to heat it in the fondue pot). Stir the oil frequently so it heats evenly. After being heated to the right temperature on the stovetop, it stays hot enough in the fondue pot to cook the meat. Remember, the meat needs to cook in the oil, not just get warm.

What temperature should oil be for fondue? The general consensus suggests 375 degrees. I don’t have the right kind of thermometer, so I use a Goldilocks trick to make sure the oil is just right: When the oil starts to get hot, toss in a bread cube (saved from the cheese course) to check its readiness. If the bread cube gets toasty brown after 30 seconds, the oil is at the perfect temperature to cook the meat. If the bread cube is pale and oily rather than crispy, heat up the oil a little more. If it’s dark brown, let the oil cool a bit.

The author's New Year's Eve 2020 fondue spread.Paul Thurrott

We set out six dipping sauces around our fondue pot. You can make your own sauces, but we pick up our favorites at the grocery store:

  • Peanut sauce
  • A-1
  • Spicy mustard
  • Ah-So
  • Soy ginger
  • Teriyaki

While beef and chicken get all the attention at our house, you could cook up vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower or asparagus in the hot oil as well.

Pro tips:

  • Give everyone two small plates so they have one for their uncooked meat and one for their cooked meat — no cross-contamination.
  • It’s a good idea to use fondue forks for this course. When you leave the meat in the oil long enough to cook it the handles of regular forks can get hot.

Third course: Melted chocolate

For the final round of our fondue dinner, we whip up a batch of melted chocolate.

My favorite for fondue is Ghirardelli semisweet baking bars, but you can go sweeter or darker depending on your chocolate preference.

Anything that would taste great dipped in chocolate works for this course. We usually put out an assortment of strawberries, bananas, pretzels, marshmallows and pound cake.

Chocolate Fondue

Chocolate Fondue

America's Test Kitchen

Fondue recipe make-ahead tips

One of the great things about fondue is that you can get the prep work done ahead of time and then enjoy the evening with your family and friends.

Earlier in the day you can:

  • Shred the cheese. This way, you just have to add it to the hot liquid and the course comes together quickly.
  • Cube the beef and chicken. Doing it ahead means you only have to heat the oil and put out the sauces when you’re ready for this course.
  • Prep dessert. Rinse the strawberries and cube the pound cake to streamline the chocolate course.

I’ll be the first to admit that fondue isn’t the healthiest dish you can make. And that’s OK. This tasty winter warmup is a once-in-a-while treat.

With a hearty, cold-weather fondue you can break out of your routine, try something new and connect with your family and friends. It’s an occasional decadent meal that fills your house with happiness. I’d say it’s worth it.