After our dinner party guests have arrived, it seems they like to congregate in our kitchen. And it’s especially true if it’s a small dinner party (six or less). I think they do this for two reasons: (1) they want to socialize with their hosts and (2) they know this is where the magic occurs.
In the early stages of my introduction to hosting, I recommended to keep things simple. But after you’ve become more accomplished and you’ve established your reputation, you can now become more of an entertainer. Make it fun for everyone. Show off a little, and this will kick your status up a notch.
At dinner parties wine will usually be served at some point during the evening. Knowing how to open, decant, and pour wine is important, so work on developing a flawless and flashy technique.
What can really get everyone’s attention is how you swirl the wine before you sniff it. The easiest way to swirl is to place your thumb and forefinger at the base of a stemmed wine glass while it’s sitting on the table. Then, draw little circles on the table while gripping the base of the glass.
But the most impressive way is to grip the stem with your thumb and first two fingers and swirl it in the air. For a good video in how to do this click on Wine Folly’s How To Swirl Wine. I recommend you practice with water until you’ve mastered the technique. This takes some practice, but it’s worth it. To be able to do this well is a confidence builder in many social settings, and always do it with flair.
When sniffing wine, get your nose all of the way in the glass. As a matter of fact, the top edge of the glass should touch the bridge of your nose. First, see if you can detect any spoilage or “corking” of the wine. Then notice what aromas you are detecting. This is your first real indicator on how the wine is going to taste. Take your time. Anticipate. And then take a sip.
Also, be sure you are knowledgeable about the wine(s) you are serving. Educate your guests if you have useful or interesting information about the wine. Telling them why you chose this particular wine is also a good idea.
Many cooks hate the slicing, dicing, and mincing that’s required in preparing a great meal. If I know I’m going to be spending time doing this, I put on my composite disc Iron Chef Bob’s Kitchen Music. This way I have some musical accompaniment while I’m working. Having music playing in the background helps to give your knife skills a rhythm, and this will make you look better and more proficient.
I never try to rush the slicing, dicing, and mincing. It should be an exact process. I want my slices to be of uniform width and my dice and mince to be consistently the same throughout.
I’m truly amazed at the knife skills some chefs possess. But one must remember, these people are professionals. They do this for a living, and sometimes speed is of the essence. Click on Kitchn Cooking School Day – Knife Skills to see how it is done correctly. And, of course, practice makes perfect (or at least make you look better).
And always, safety first. Knives are sharp and can be dangerous. Be cautious. Never wave knives around or you could eviscerate one of your helpers.
Start with a smaller knife (6″ to 8″ blade and work your way up to a 10″ blade). I started with a Santoku knife with a 7″ cutting length, but I now use a chef’s knife with a 10″ cutting length. It will take a while to get used to the feel of the larger-sized knife, but the extra cutting length shortens the dicing/mincing time considerably. The Santoku knife characteristically has a straight cutting back while the chef’s knife is arced a bit, allowing a better rocking and rolling action to your dicing and mincing.
Caution: Watch your fingers, or parts of them could end in the dice.
Learning how to flip food in your skillet or sauté pan is a helpful technique to know. It’s also flashy. While it’s fun to flip a pancake without the aid of a spatula, flipping the contents of a pan is especially useful when sautéing food. It’s much faster thanusing a spatula, and it lets everyone know who happens to be watching that this isn’t your first dance. For some help click on Ming Tsai’s video, Simply Ming Tips – Flipping Food In A Pan.
A couple of recommendations I would like to make: (1) Use a sauté pan instead of a high-sided skillet, especially in the early stages of learning. The rolled sides make the flipping process much simpler. (2) This is difficult to do if you are using a heavy skillet or pan, so use a light pan when learning and then graduate up. (3) Also, practice with marbles or beans in a cold skillet or pan.
As you get better and become more proficient with your technique, be more aggressive with your flipping action and flip the food higher. Having food stains on your ceiling gives testament to the fact that you’ve been doing this for awhile.
Nothing is quite as impressive as having your host don a tuxedo jacket and prepare a Caesar salad while your guests watch. The key to this is having the proper equipment, having a great Caesar salad recipe, and having all of your ingredients organized in your prep area. It also helps if you are very familiar with the recipe, and you’ve practiced. You’ll score extra points if you perform this on a serving cart.
I cover this in another section of Dinner Parties and More, so click on Caesar Salad Without A Net. If your guests have never had a Caesar salad with homemade dressing, they are in for an unforgettable treat. And your name will be mentioned far and wide.
I will feature two dishes that involve a flame. The first is Crème Brule. It is essentially a custard where a covering of sugar is sprinkled over the top and then caramelized with a torch. It is delicious and showy. Make sure your guests see the whole process. To see my recipe, click on Crème Brule – A Fitting Ending To A Great Meal.
Take the lead after all of your guests have been served. Vigorously smack the caramelized sugar with the back of your spoon. The top will shatter. Take a spoonful,and enjoy.
To serve a drink with pizazz, I’d like to recommend a Mezcal Old Fashioned. It’s a simple recipe with 1 oz. of tequila, 1 oz. of Mezcal, a bar-spoonful of agave nectar, and 2 dashes of Angostura bitters. Add ingredients to a shaker filled with ice and stir. Strain into a glass, and for a great finishing touch, flame an orange zest. To see a YouTube video on this look up How To Flame An Orange Zest by Jamie Boudreau.
The second is the granddaddy of them all – the flambé. A site called The Spruce has a great video. Click on How To Flambé Foods.
Keep in mind the song from the 1950s, I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire. I Just Want To Start A Flame In Your Heart. In other words, some pyrotechnics can make the evening memorable.
You’re using fire in your food preparation. Extreme caution should be exercised because you’re literally starting the contents of your skillet on fire. When ignited, the flames will leap out of the pan, so be ready and be careful where and how this is done.
Check for things that could burn above and in the general area of the stove. When the evening is over, you want to be remembered for your culinary pizazz, and not the fact that you made the 10:00 pm news.
I think some safety reminders should be listed: (1) if there is a lot of oil in the pan, it’s a good idea to remove some of it, (2) never pour the alcohol-based flambé liquid directly from the bottle into the pan – pour it into a smaller container first, (3) either light the liquid with a long match or a long butane lighter, or tip the liquid to the edge and it will burst into flames, which I think is always a bit iffy, and (4) remove the pan or skillet from the stove, light it, and then roll the liquid until the flames subside, which will assure that all of the alcohol has burnt off.
A good recipe to try is Steak Au Poivre. Click on Steak Au Poivre for a delicious fillet recipe with a pan sauce. This is one meal your guests will remember for a long time.
There you have it; five things you can do to add pizazz to your dinner party. Once you’ve mastered any or all of these, it’s a forgone conclusion that you will be a living legend.