The Right Way to Throw a Dinner Party
What you need to know about cooking for large groups
Give a man a casserole and he can eat for about three nights, give or take. Teach a man to casserole and you’ve got yourself a bona fide holiday hero.
Fact is, there’s nothing more courageous than impressing all of your friends with a damn good meal. Check that: with a damn good beef bourguignon. It’s easy to make. Seriously. There’s one pot involved. And it feeds about eight heads.
Herein: the recipe, along with five primo hosting tips from NY-based chef and all-around good-gal-to-know Sarah Ashley Schiear.
‘Tis the season, gents. Don your toques and aprons.
1. Family-style food makes people happy. Especially as the temperatures drop. Think: a large meat roast with a couple sides and a salad, or a one-pot dish like this beef bourguignon. Make the seating casual — no need for assigning.
2. Keep it simple. Invest in a sturdy set of classic white plates (for this dish, we like a low bowl). For napkins, try these inexpensive dish towels that look stylish but can be easily thrown in the wash with no need to iron. Mix-and-match glassware is totally cool and can even form its own unique look. A few candles (unscented are best so they don’t compete with the food) create a warm and inviting atmosphere.
3. Prep in advance. Do as much as you can beforehand, and always read the recipe thoroughly before you get going. If you’re making a new dish, give yourself plenty of extra time. With the bourguignon, you can even make the whole thing in advance and reheat.
4. Be thoughtful. This means asking in advance if anyone has dietary restrictions, making sure you have something on hand for those who don’t drink alcohol (sparkling water is always a good option), and keeping the bathroom is tidy (empty the trash can, clean the mirrors, light a nice scented candle, etc.).
5. Provide a proper welcome. Welcome your guests with something to drink and have something small to snack on available in case they’re famished. Set out wine or liquor and cocktail mixers (don’t forget ice!) and glasses close to the entrance. Simple snacks we love include castelvetrano olives (the bright green ones), marcona almonds and clementines.
Get more entertaining tips from Sarah here.
Beef Bourguignon with Potatoes & Maitake Mushrooms
Start the night before, so you can marinate the meat and give yourself ample time to prepare the dish (it takes a few hours, but most of it is hands off). You can even make the whole thing a day ahead of time and reheat for your gathering day-of.
Serve with a simple green salad, such as baby arugula dressed with fresh lemon juice, olive oil, salt, black pepper and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano (use a vegetable peeler). For dessert, ice cream is always a crowd-pleaser; purchase a few flavors (include one sorbet) from your favorite local shop and let people serve themselves after the meal.
For the marinade:
4 pounds organic beef chuck roast, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 bottle red burgundy (Pinot Noir) or Cote du Rhone
2 shallots, sliced
4 or 5 large cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
3 bay leaves
A few sprigs fresh thyme
Fresh ground black pepper
For the stew:
¾ pound thick-cut applewood-smoked bacon, cut into lardons
2 large onions, sliced
2 pounds heirloom carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces on bias
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ cup brandy or cognac
1 quart (4 cups) veal stock*
1 bunch fresh thyme, 2 teaspoons leaves reserved
1 pound small mixed baby potatoes, halved or left whole if very small
2 cups peeled red and/or white pearl onions
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 pound maitake or other wild mushrooms
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Crusty fresh bread, for serving
Soft high-quality butter, for serving
Fresh parsley leaves, for serving
Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon), for finishing and serving
Microgreens, for garnish (optional)
*Veal stock is worlds apart from canned beef stock. Check specialty groceries in your area to see if they sell it freshly made. If you can’t find it, order veal demi-glace from D’Artagnan (combine each container with a cup of water to make 2 cups stock) or substitute packaged beef stock if you must.
The night before, combine marinade ingredients in a large container. Refrigerate overnight.
Remove beef from marinade and transfer to a plate, drying well with paper towels. Strain and reserve wine from marinade.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
In a large braiser or Dutch oven, cook bacon over medium-low heat until fat has rendered and bacon is crisp; remove to a paper towel-lined plate. Pour out and reserve some of the bacon fat so that the pan is evenly coated. Salt well-dried beef very generously on all sides. Turn heat up to medium-high and sear beef until golden brown in batches. (Brown bits are great and add flavor, but in between batches if you see they might start to burn, add a splash of reserved wine marinade in the pot to deglaze, then adding all of it back into the reserved marinade. You can continue with searing using reserved bacon fat.) Transfer browned beef to a plate.
Turn heat to medium and add onions and carrots to pot. Sauté until golden. Add garlic and sauté just until fragrant; about 30 seconds. Add tomato paste and stir for one minute. Add brandy and cook until mostly evaporated.
Place beef back into pot. Add reserved wine marinade, and enough veal stock to just barely cover everything. Taste braising liquid; add salt to taste. (Don’t go overboard but the liquid needs to taste good and be adequately seasoned to flavor the stew.) Scatter thyme sprigs over the top, bring to a simmer; cover and place in oven.
Cook for 1 hour; add potatoes and return to oven. Check your oven temperature; the contents should be just simmering, not boiling; adjust if necessary. Cook for another hour or until meat is very tender, adding onions in the last 20 minutes or so.
Meanwhile, heat a large sauté pan over medium to medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon butter and some of the mushrooms, torn into pieces; season generously with salt and reserved thyme. Sauté until golden-brown. Repeat until all mushrooms are cooked, reserving 1 tablespoon of the butter for another use. Set aside.
When vegetables and meat are fully tender, remove from oven and place on stove over medium heat. In a small bowl, combine remaining 1 tablespoon butter and flour with a fork (gently warming the butter if necessary). Add to stew, stirring until combined. Add mushrooms and bacon. Taste for seasoning, adding salt if necessary.
Sprinkle with Maldon salt, parsley leaves, and microgreens if using. Serve family-style with crusty bread, softened butter and additional Maldon salt.
Sarah Ashley Schiear is a private chef, entertaining expert and really nice person. She resides in Brooklyn, NY, where she throws excellent brunch parties and runs Salt House, a food lifestyle blog and marketplace where you should consider grabbing your lady an apron for the holidays. All photos and recipe courtesy of Sarah.