Even for experienced cooks, the prospect of feeding a large crowd can be daunting. Over the last two weeks I have had several opportunities to practice this skill, and I’ve created a step-by-step guide to prepare you to feed a gathering of any size.
Write your menu. For meals without traditional dishes, like Thanksgiving, you’ll need to take into consideration the tastes, allergies, dietary restrictions, and specific preferences of your guests before writing the menu. If the event is celebrating a specific guest, like a birthday party, tailor your menu to their tastes first. Always include a protein, a starch, and at least one vegetable dish. It is courteous to provide at least two options for each.
Write your shopping list with your recipes as your guide. Be sure to scale your recipes up to accommodate the number of guests. If meat is the main dish, plan for about 1/2 pound per person.
Shop well in advance. You never know what the grocery store will be out of, so secure your ingredients at least the day before the event. Always purchase 10% more than the recipes require, if possible.
Write a production timeline. Make a schedule for the day with realistic timeframes for prepping, cooking and serving. Take into consideration the cooking times of each dish and plan to have everything done at the same time. It’s wise to plan a few items that can be made in advance and held until serving. Things like salad dressings, cold dishes and desserts can usually be made days before.
Get a sous chef. Enlist the help of one or more people to assist you in prepping, plating and cleaning. Be specific about their responsibilities so there is no confusion. It helps to give them lists and include your helpers on your timeline.
Plan your table. Locate all the serving dishes, utensils, napkins, dishware, etc. that you will need for each dish and each guest. Have a helper set the table about halfway through your cooking schedule.
Have a backup plan. Even the most seasoned chefs make mistakes, and sometimes even the best plans go wrong, so you need to have a plan for what you’ll serve if everything goes up in flames. My plan? Pizza always pleases.
I made palak tofu, butter chicken, basmati rice, cucumber salad and homemade garlic naan for a group last weekend and, with the help of my tried-and-true method, everything went smoothly. I utilized the grill to make the naan in advance and held it wrapped in foil until serving. This beloved bread is simple to make but needs 2 hours minimum from start to finish, so put it in early on your timeline.
Ingredients for about 6 large naan:
¾ cup warm water
¾ cup warm milk
1 ½ teaspoon active dry yeast
1 ½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon honey
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
Combine your warm water, milk, honey and yeast and let sit until frothy, about 10 minutes.
In a large mixing bowl, sift together your flour and salt and set aside.
Add your yogurt to the frothy yeast mixture and whisk until smooth, then add to the flour and knead lightly. You do not need to make a smooth dough ball or knead vigorously, just until combined.
Cover with a kitchen towel and allow to rise until it deflates, about 1.5 or 2 hours.
Once it deflates, immediately begin forming your naan. Portion the dough into six equal parts and use a rolling pin to flatten the dough into rounds about ¼ of an inch thick.
Cook immediately on a hot greased skillet or the grill until the bread has puffed and turned golden brown on both sides. You may need to turn often to prevent burning if the grill is very hot.
Brush with garlic butter on one side before serving.