Do you have a wedding coming up? A school reunion? Or you just want to have the crowd over? Well guess what! I recommend chicken for the menu! Seriously, it’s a good choice because it’s on almost everyone’s diet, most people like it, and it’s probably the most economical main course that can be served to crowds.
Frank and I both enjoy entertaining. There are many months in the year when we entertain 50 associates (that’s the term used at Perdue Farms for employees) each week, and at Christmas time, it has gotten up to 300 in a week.
People who know that Frank and I entertain a lot sometimes ask why I don’t have the parties catered. The fact is, I don’t want to hire somebody to do what I enjoy doing anyway.
Besides, it wouldn’t fit in with our lifestyle to have catered affairs. Frank is actually a frugal and down-to-earth man. He travels economy class, is careful to turn the lights off when we leave the house, and before we married, he cooked for himself and washed his own dishes. (Now I do it.) It’s a real compliment when Frank says that someone is “tight as the bark on an oak tree.”
Still, I know we’re all busy, so I’m in favor of any shortcuts that help save time even if they cost a little extra. And yet, as a former New England Yankee, I am always in favor of spending money carefully. Here are some of the tips that I’ve learned that may help you, whether you’re cooking for eight or a hundred:
_Plan a simple menu with everything done in advance, except simple heating or reheating. Most cookbooks suggest that you have only a few dishes that require last minute work, but I don’t want the hassle of worrying about any; I’ve found that last minute things always come up, and it’s wonderful to know that they’re not going to upset your schedule or leave you in a state of frazzlement. In my own case, I’m always working harder the day before the party than the day of the party.
_Check that you’ve got refrigerator or freezer space for all perishables.
_Check that you have the pots and pans and storage containers for the foods you’ll be preparing.
_Write a detailed schedule for yourself including the menu and shopping list. I like to have a copy of the menu visible on my refrigerator, partly because it gives me confidence as I check off each dish as it’s completed, but mostly because I remember one party when I forgot a dish that I had cooked and was faced with leftover string beans for thirty.
_This tip has nothing to do with poultry, but it’s worked so well for me I’ll share it anyway. When the occasion is special enough so that you’re using a florist, (a wedding? an anniversary?) your flower budget will go further if you’ll call the florist a week ahead and tell him or her your color scheme and what you’re willing to spend. The florist will know which flowers are in over supply and therefore a bargain, and given a week, he or she will have the time to place an order with the wholesaler for the ones which are a good buy. You won’t necessarily spend less, but you’re likely to get considerably more for your money.
_Keep food safety in mind as you work. Keep perishable food, such as chicken, in the refrigerator except when you’re working with it. Prepare food in batches and have out only what you’re using. When refrigerating foods, have them in small enough batches so that they’ll cool quickly.
_If you’re serving wine, make it white wine rather than red wine. I say that not because white wine is supposed to go with chicken (some of the more robust recipes for chicken go beautifully with red wine), but because white wine is less of a menace to your carpets.
_If it’s a buffet and people will be balancing plates on their laps, serve foods that are already bite-sized and that don’t require cutting with a knife and fork.
_Just because you’re not having it catered doesn’t mean you have to do it all yourself. If you’re near a college campus, see if the food service people at the student cafeteria would be willing to make the vegetables or other side dishes. Also, check the cafeteria at a local factory or processing plant. Sometimes these people will moonlight and make large batches of your favorite recipe for you. They’ve got the equipment, and in my experience, they’re pleased to have the extra income. Also, they’re frequently less expensive than restaurants and they’re apt to be much, much less expensive than a caterer.
_A crowd seldom consumes more than 3-ounces of cooked protein total, per person, and that includes whatever protein is part of the appetizers as well as the main course. However, I usually have closer to 4-ounces per person available, just for “sociable security.” If you plan on just under 4-ounces each, you’ll almost certainly have leftovers, but at least you won’t run out. Another way of calculating is that a breast and a wing per person will insure that you’ll have more than enough. (Adjust this depending on whether you’re entertaining toddlers or professional football players or$the biggest eaters$older teenage boys.) Also, keep in mind how much else you’re serving. At our parties, I’ve seen that I’ll always have some leftovers if I allow a half cup serving per person for each of the following: starches, vegetables, and salad, plus a serving and a quarter of bread. That’s assuming that there have been a couple of small appetizers before, and that the main course will be followed by dessert.
_When you’re multiplying recipes, keep in mind that cooking times may be different if you change the recipe size. A larger amount of food may take longer to cook; a smaller amount may be overcooked in the same time.
ILLUSTRATION: ORIENTAL MINI DRUMSTICKS FROM CHICKEN WINGS
CURRIED CHICKEN FROM BONELESS BREAST
SANTA FE CHICKEN OR BONELESS THIGHS
PHOTO OF ALL THREE IN FILES
PHOTO: Chicken “nibbles” just right for… – 6
DIPS AND SPREADS – 5
Chicken Recipes – The Perdue Chicken Cookbook
Copyright (C) by Mitzi Perdue – Used with Permission