table of food including salad and olives

The Golden Rule of Cooking for a Crowd – Plan, Plan, Plan

Cooking for a crowd can be intimidating whether it is the first time you have done so, or you have welcomed larger groups of guests on several previous occasions.

You ask yourself the same questions – will there be enough to go round? Will everyone like it? Is there something for every allergy, intolerance as well as likes and dislikes?

It’s natural that as a host, you want everyone to leave licking their lips, delighting in the delicious menu you served up. But how do you get to this point without going into anxiety overload?

Our chefs offer you their top tips on how to cook for a crowd and how to get it right.

 

Plan the ‘format’

What you cook and how you serve it depends on what kind of event you are hosting.

The easiest and most convenient way of feeding a large group of people is a buffet. Informal, easy to plan, prepare and execute, there is a lot to be said for the humble buffet.

If you want something a little more formal, a sit-down meal at a long trestle table where laughter and chatter fill the air is the way to go. You can really make a statement with the table setting too. The menu may be more formalised also, with dishes that can be easily shared around but more filling than a sandwich or two. Think hotpots, chillis, pasta dishes and salads.

For summer get-togethers, there is always the BBQ option too.

 

Create a timetable

An aspect we cover in some of our cookery courses is the importance of timing when it comes to prepping, cooking and serving food on a larger scale.

It may seem over the top but creating a timetable of what you should be doing and when will help not only your stress levels but producing delicious dishes for you many guests to eat. To help you with this organisation process, you could join a course run by one of our chefs like modern British specialist Jack Lucas to learn how cooking something delicious doesn’t have to be a stressful, complex process.

 

Plan the dishes

Clearly, catering to a crowd means producing tasty dishes in larger quantities, whatever dishes you decide on.

The ‘easy’ option is to go for one pan dishes that can be made in bulk and the day before too. For example, no one can argue with the flavour of a chilli or the sublime flavours of a curry.

You can always create more than one dish but again, you need to be confident you can prepare as much in advance.

Traybakes can also work well where chicken or other meat is marinated and spread out on cooking trays ready for roasting before your guests arrive.

Top tip – check the seasoning! We tend to under-season dishes produced on a large scale and so check your seasoning, adjusting as necessary. You’ll probably find you need to add more.

 

Have a plan B and possibly a plan C too

The thing about hosting a larger gathering is that you want everybody to enjoy themselves and the food on offer.

The problem is, there are picky-eaters amongst us. You’re also very likely to have a few friends with allergies and intolerances.

And this means that as a cook, you need plenty of options including a plan B and a plan C. however – here’s the good news – this doesn’t mean completely reinventing your menu;

  • Choose dishes that can be easily adapted – replace meat with Quorn or offer a delicious vegetable-laden
  • Keep sides simple – and ones that can be eaten by both meat-eaters and vegetarians alike.
  • Check guests dietry needs beforehand – especially intolerances, allergies and preferences such as being vegan.

 

Safe prep and storage

Possibly one of the biggest issues when cooking for larger numbers is food hygiene. This is mainly because we don’t have the fridge space for storing large pans and baking dishes.

In some ways, you can avoid this by cooking as close to your party or gathering as you can and making space in your fridge beforehand to store the things in there that need to be kept at a cooler temperature.

 

Serve at the right temperature

Serving food piping hot is essential for making sure you send your guests home with nothing more than a great time and not the start of food poisoning…

Larger pots and trays of food will take longer to heat right through, especially in the densest part like the middle. Give yourself plenty of time between starting to heat and cook food and getting it on the table.

What tips do you have about cooking for large groups? Is it something you enjoy doing?

Clare is the founder of Seasoned Cookery School. She is passionate about inspiring people with food and creating memorable experiences for everyone who passes through the Seasoned door.


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