My twelve-year-old wanted a fondue birthday party, with both meat and cheese. The thought of a bevy of tween girls jostling around a pot of near smoking oil was pretty terrifying, but I was game to give it a try.
Fondue is meant to be a communal activity, but with fondue bourguignonne once you get more than about five people, the competition for pot space gets dodgy. The trouble with meat unlike cheese is that you can’t dip and go. So I decided to precook the meat sous vide at 130°F for a few hours before the party. This solved a number of problems.
First, all of the meat on the table was cooked, so the risk of cross contamination was eliminated. This was always a big freakout point for me, especially with kids at the table.
Secondly, all of the meat was pre-seasoned. I have always had problems with trying to salt fondue meat. You can use salty sauces, which I found repellant, or just go with bland meat. You can try to salt the raw meat before or at the table, but in practice I found this to be messy and erratic. With sous vide, I could deliver the appropriate amount of salt making a much tastier final result.
Lastly, and this is the clincher, the meat is finished in seconds. It is much more like a dip than the normal prolonged cooking for meat fondue. In three or four seconds, the meat is perfectly browned with a medium rare doneness. It requires some instruction to the seasoned fonduer, but otherwise worked flawlessly. More importantly, I was able to scale up to party size as it eliminated the jockeying for pot space.
I could not have been happier with the results. Ten people served with no waiting, no accidents, and perfect cooking. Most importantly, I have a happy twelve year old.
The other exciting thing is that sous vide opens up the possibilities for different cuts of meat to fondue. Normally, for meat fondue you have to use more tender, less flavorful, and more expensive cuts of meat. With this technique you could conceivably get away with using eye of round or perhaps even a leaner chuck. It’s hard for me to imagine short rib not being amazing like this too. Clearly, this is going to require some experimentation.