It’s frigid. Maybe you don’t want to make a reservation anywhere except your living room. No matter — invite over a few friends willing to brave the chill for a cozy evening of forks and corks. “I love fondue because it gives guests the chance to share and interact,” says chef Dennis Marron of Poste Moderne Brasserie (555 Eighth Street NW, 202-783-6060). Communal, social and (yes) a little bit retro, the prep-in-advance and cook-your-own aspects of a fondue soirée also virtually guarantee a stress-free event for the host.
Start with a good fondue pot, says Marron. If it uses Sterno, heat the fondue first on the stove before transferring to the table; if it’s electric, you can warm the mixture right in the pot. And if you have the space (and the extra pots), he recommends setting up three stations for cheese, oil or broth, and chocolate. Don’t have a dedicated pot? Brasserie Beck (1101 K St. NW, 202-408-1717) chef de cuisine Anthony Ancinapura suggests melting and stirring the cheese or chocolate in a double boiler before pouring into a serving dish.
To keep their aged cheddar-truffle goat cheese fondue smooth and creamy, Blue Duck Tavern (1201 24th Street NW, 202-419-6755) cheese specialist Matthew O’Herron has a little secret. “Use sodium citrate, which is essentially the same emulsifier used in processed American cheese.” To cook meat, vegetables and seafood, use a mixture of court bouillon (wine, broth and herbs), or the traditional, decidedly more decadent option. “Duck or beef fat work great, but you can also use clarified butter,” recommends Marron, but avoid olive oil — its smoking point is too low.
“Get creative with your garnishes — think of off the wall, unexpected things to dip,” Ancinapura says. Try Brussels sprouts, grapes and Tater Tots in cheese, broccoli and scallions in oil or cake slices and dried fruit in chocolate. Mix up dipping sauces to use on anything cooked in oil or broth: horseradish stirred into sour cream, curry powder sprinkled into plain yogurt, soy sauce added to chopped ginger, garlic and scallion, and Worcestershire sauce and shallots mingled with ketchup.
Nopa Kitchen + Bar (800 F St. NW, 202-347-4667) chef Greg McCarty serves the same beverage that went into the cheese fondue — a sparkling wine, which goes with everything. O’Herron pours a bock or doppelbock with Alpine cheeses or aged gouda, and hoppy red ales with cheddar or British cheeses. Blue Duck Tavern sommelier Gene Alexeyev relies on the “razor-like crispness” of sauvignon blanc to cut through rich fondues, and earthy reds to bring out the forest and mushroom aromas in sharper cheeses. Brasserie Beck general manager Ramon Narvaez suggests Cotes du Rhone with court bouillon, and a glass of red zinfandel or ruby or tawny Port as a sweet finish with chocolate.
Make it: Poste Fondue
1⁄2 lb. Emmenthal cheese, grated
1⁄2 lb. Gruyere cheese, grated
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 cup white wine
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon cognac
1⁄2 teaspoon dry mustard powder
Fresh grated nutmeg
In a small bowl, coat the cheeses with cornstarch and set aside. Rub the inside of a fondue pot with the garlic, then discard. Over medium heat, add the wine and lemon juice, then bring to a simmer. Gradually whisk in the cheese. Add gradually and be sure it is fully incorporated. Once smooth, stir in cognac, mustard and nutmeg.