How to Host Your First Dinner Party in a Good Long While
The most important thing? Keep calm—and keep it simple.
In Supper Club, Jonah Reider taps into the joys of do-it-yourself hospitality, sharing his essential tips, tools, and no-stress recipes to become a more creative, improvisational, and confident host. Dine with Jonah at his supper club Pith, check out his wares at Pith Home Goods, or follow along his culinary adventures on Instagram.
Remember those things called dinner parties? It's finally time to tap back into the joys of hosting a meal for friends-even, gasp, vaccinated acquaintances-at home. I bet that you improved your cooking skills over the past year, but I think we're all a bit rusty on the tricks and techniques that go behind calmly hosting a memorable dinner party.
I recently relaunched the supper club I run out of my apartment in New York City, and I'm going to walk you through an easy and decadent meal that celebrates all the bounty of late spring. Set the table, put on some good music, and light a few candles: this menu is going to get you beyond excited for hosting dinners in the months ahead.
Start With Snacks. Specifically, Anchovy Toasts
I find it awkward and stressful to serve an entire meal the second that guests arrive. Give yourself time to finish prep work and lay out an array of low-effort snacks near the kitchen but not at the dinner table itself: good olives, crackers or breadsticks, store-bought dips, raw vegetables, maybe a wedge of cheese. I'm imagining a little aperitif bar as well: a big bowl of ice, sparkling water, a bunch of Collins or rocks glasses, and an aperitif like Lillet Blanc or Campari will be quite celebratory.
But if I had to choose one low-effort, high-impact snack to put together for folks coming over, it would be anchovy toast. There are few better combinations than crispy morsels of quality bread topped with an indulgent mound of soft butter and a single, salty, mouth-puckering anchovy. When cooking for a group, I lay the bread slices onto a baking tray and watch them brown under my oven's broiler within a minute or two. A shower of thyme or quality dried oregano will make this simple snack smell and look stunning.
White anchovies are exceptionally delicious, but nearly any kind will do. Just remember that, like the butter, they look and taste best at room temperature. And if you're not doing anchovies? Try thinly sliced strips of sun-dried tomatoes equally rich with umami.
Cook Some Lamb. But Make It Shoulder Chops
After my guests have had a glass of wine and an anchovy toast or three, I'll invite everyone to sit down at the table. I'm cooking lamb because its light funk and gaminess perfectly complement bright and verdant springtime ingredients.
Instead of expensive lollipops lamb ribs, I'm serving lamb shoulder chops. While lamb shoulder is often sold in a large chunk for slow-cooking, the individually portioned chops cut from it are affordable, marbled with flavorful fat, and surprisingly forgiving to cook. I salt them generously before cooking them in a smoking hot cast-iron skillet slicked with a spoonful of oil for 3 to 5 minutes on each side.
If you're hosting a larger group or just want to avoid a splattery and smoky kitchen in the middle of dinner, you can actually sear the lamb well before guests arrive, forming a caramelized crust while keeping the meat pretty much raw inside. Those partially pre-seared chops can rest at room temperature on a baking tray until everyone's seated for dinner, when I calmly slide them under my oven's broiler and bring them to a perfect medium rare in 5 minutes, reactivating that caramelized crust.
Keep Those Sides Absurdly Simple
I generally serve two simple sides alongside a main protein. In this case, I'll opt for snappy asparagus that I've steamed or boiled in salty water for only a few minutes, then sliced in half and tossed with a simple lemony vinaigrette. This can be prepared and plated before mealtime, garnished generously with thin slices of a green chile (something mild, like a jalapeño) and plenty of freshly ripped mint or basil. Mixing different shades and thickness of asparagus will help your plate pop with color, but be careful to not overcook thinner stalks - the vegetable should never feel soggy and soft.
My other side is even simpler: small baby potatoes that I've boiled or steamed whole. I cook the potatoes in the same pot as the asparagus, albeit for much longer. Right before serving, I'll toss them with a spoonful of olive oil and some flaky salt, and then give them a sprinkle of bright green herbs. Very fragrant dried oregano would work, as would thinly chopped chives, but I like to get a bit fancy and use finely grind fresh bay leaves in my spice grinder - the bright powder has an aroma 100x stronger than the muted grey bay leaves I usually find at the back of my spice cabinet.
Pass the Platters, Sprinkle the Salt, and Pour the Wine
Giant platters of food can be awkward to pass down a big table, so I plate up a new dish for every three or four guests. This means that a dinner for six people will feature two plates of each dish, creating a decadent tablescape out of only a few dishes. Just remember to give everything a sprinkle of flaky finishing salt before you bring it out to the table.
To drink with this spread, I'd lean towards lighter, juicy red wines that have been briefly chilled. Gamay grapes and light pinot noirs could both work, or a more savory skin-contact wine could hold up well to the lamb.
And for Dessert, Don't Bake It-Scoop It
I hate baking, but dessert is often what lingers in guests' minds. My solution this month is to make a simple compote from seasonal fruit and then serve it with a dollop of frozen yogurt, ice cream, or shortbread dough. This month, I'm taking advantage of super tart rhubarb and sweet summery strawberries. Is there a more iconic duo? No, although you could make something similar with any peak-season fruit.
I clean and roughly chop the rhubarb and strawberries, collecting them in an enameled pot. Then, I add enough sugar to completely cover the fruit as well as a bit of salt. After sitting for 15 minutes or longer, you'll see lots of delicious liquid leaking from the fruit. From here, it's simple: cook down your fruit until enough water has evaporated to reduce its size by half. If you want to add some depth and savory notes, freshly cracked black peppercorn will be great.
The compote can be made way before a dinner party and kept in your fridge. The simplest crowd pleaser? Take out some ice cream or frozen yogurt when you clear the dinner table. 15 minutes later, guests will be ready for something sweet and the ice cream will be perfectly tempered for beautiful scooping. The compote can be spread directly over the tempered vanilla ice cream and then scooped into cosmically swirly spheres.
Another option: roll out simple shortbread dough and bake it with the compote spread on top for an easy and impressive tart. Or, a lazier but equally delicious alternative would be to simply put tiny spoonfuls of the compote on top of store-bought buttery and crumbly shortbread cookies.
However you serve the compote, if you want a fancy garnish, use a vegetable peeler to pull very thin strips of the rhubarb's ruby-red skin. Store the strands in a cup of ice water in your fridge, and they'll curl into crunchy and sour twirls that make for an elegant garnish, no matter what dessert you're serving.