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fancy dinner party - help with entree

hi everyone-

i'm planning a (hopefully) fancy dinner party for 8 people who don't eat beef or lamb.

i have frequently made a roasted pork tenderloin for this group, so i am hoping for something different

sides will probably be potato something and green something.

any input?


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  1. Goose, duck, pheasant, a whole fish, salt crusted fish, shellfish (paella)...


    1. organic baby back ribs are fantastic braised in a little white wine, garlic and rosemary. And they take the edge off of a fancy party. You could also ask your butcher to French chicken breasts for you and then marinate them in olive oil, lemon zest (wide pieces with no pith) fresh thyme, parsley, dijon and heads of garlic cut in half for for to six hours. Sear them off in the pan until they are chestnut colored. Remove and roast at 400 until just cooked through. Remove the bottom bones and the wish bone. Clean the meat from the wing (the wing tip will have been removed.) Slice on the diagonal and serve with a chicken stock that you have made yourself, then strained through a fine sieve, then continued to reduce until it is a sauce. (add salt once you strain the stock, but be sure to go easy, as it will continue to reduce quite a bit.)
      I love this with roasted tomatoes, wilted baby spinach and smashed yukon golds.
      You could also do a seared whole chicken or chicken breasts, and once they are seard, stuffed with mascarpone that has a little lemon zest, smashed garlic and fresh basil or rosemary with broccoli rabe or string beans with garlic. An elegant little salad to serve after is endive, radicchio, flat leaf parsely, thinly sliced fennel, a little shallot and a few arugula leaves, dressed just with your best olive oil, salt and a squeeze of lemon. A cheese course from your favorite cheese monger immediately makes a meal a feast. fayefood.com

      1. A capon is exceptionally juicy roasted and comes up to about 9 lb., which is size you would need. I would roast it simply with an orange or lemon citrus glaze. You can stuff it with cornbread stuffing, make potato gratin and roasted asparagus or creamed spinach. In Central Ohio, we don't get fresh capons, they are frozen and run about $2.00-$2.50/lb. They are ordered from the butcher. A capon is a rooster that has been, ahem, clipped. Not sure if they use special feed, but it is very juicy and a big holiday treat for our family. If you want more detailed recipes, let me know.

        1. how about roast cornish hen? I think they look impressive. Since it is still chilly, coq au vin is great and can me made well ahead of time and only improves as it sits.

          1. Roasted filet of halibut. A six pound piece of fish looks beautiful presented on a platter. Perhaps a lemon butter sauce, Hollandaise, bearnaise or just a compound butter to serve with the fish. You could par cook some potatoes and then finish them by roasting in the oven at the same time as the fish. Could do the same thing w/ broccoli. Easy, beautiful, tasty.

            5 Replies
            1. re: gourmanda

              do you have a recipe for a roasted six pound piece of halibut? Olive oil, salt + pepper and high heat? I make a tomato tarragon compote I often serve with grilled, halibut + swordfish and thought that might be an easier way for a group.

              1. re: holleygolitely

                If I remember correctly from this summer, I rubbed it with olive oil, rosemary, s&p (you can do this early in the day and keep it refrigerated). Then it was 450 degrees for about 25 minutes. Your tomato tarragon compote sounds lovely.

                1. re: gourmanda

                  thanks for this--I will try it! BTW, compote is shallots, chopped tomatoes, olive oil or butter, s+p, cooked till soft in a sautee then add tarragon at the end.

                  1. re: holleygolitely

                    when I make compound butter, I boil the chopped shallots in wine (generally red, but I make it for salmon) until wine is almost gone, then mix into butter, and add S&P & herbs. Roll into log in wax paper and chill. You can freeze also, but I usually forget.
                    I like burgundy rosemary compound butter w/ salmon. Yum.

                    1. re: holleygolitely

                      Whoops! I re-read the recipe last night and it said 20-25 minutes at 400 degrees for a 3-pound filet, 1 1/4-1 1/2 inches thick. Serves 6 (or in my house, probably 4).

                      Thanks for the compote idea. I like that and the butter mentioned by NYChow!

              2. I don't know how easy they are to get where you are, but last night we had a dinner for 7 and we ate wild rabbit stew - cooked with cider. It amply served us with some to spare. You can just throw any root vegetables you like in there, I think we had carrots and maybe parsnips. I think it cooked on a low heat in the oven for about 5 hours, which might not be practical in this case but I guess it depends - if you can do it a day or so before it should be fine in the fridge. We served it with bay-infused mashed potato (you steep the bay leaves in the milk you're going to use in the mash) and steamed purple-sprouting broccoli (any old steamed greens would do though). Simple, but effective.

                1. My new absolute favorite dish is 2 minute Scicilian Lifeguard Calamari from the Babbo cookbook. Simple, yet delicious, and would be perfect for a dinner party because it cooks in...well...almost 2 minutes.

                  You make Mario's basic sauce (in advance), then cooks some Israeli cous cous (also in advance) Saute currants and pinenuts and chili flakes in olive oil for 2 minutes until the nuts are brownish, then add the tomato sauce and some caperberries. Then add the calamari and cook for 2 (maybe 3) minutes. Serve in a deep-dish plate and sprinkle w/ shredded green onion. The combo of the sweet currants w/ the slightly spicey tomato sauce is really good. This is a whole>sum of parts kind of dish. To make it fancy, I have in the past added pieces of lobster tail and scallops. The scallops are better if you sear them in butter at the last minute and place on top of the dish rather than letting them cook in the sauce like the calamari.

                  I would not do the potato something, I would just start w/ a luxe green salad and move on to this dish.

                  1. how about a rabbit ragu lasagna.

                    1. pappardelle with duck ragu or duck ragu with gnocchi..
                      fresh sauteed spinach with lemon, garlic and pinon

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: chef chicklet

                        Oh, my gosh, I'm voting for the duck and pappardelle! Had this recently at a restaurant for lunch and have been meaning to try to recreate it ever since. Thanks for the reminder, chef chicklet. It was delicious, and the ragu make-ahead.

                        I'm a big fan of spring asparagus, so I suggest it for everything! How about asparagus flans for a starter?

                        1. re: nemo

                          I love too love duck pappardelle, and the flan with asparagus would go beautifully. Do you have a good recipe?

                          1. re: chef chicklet

                            I don't, chef chicklet, it just sounded like it would be good. I've been Googling, and there are lots of recipes out there. This one sounded like a good jumping off point, although I don't think I'd use the tarragon. Maybe thyme...or maybe just salt and pepper.


                            1. re: nemo


                              That looks like a great recipe, thanks for the link.

                              On your change from Tarragon to Thyme. Jfood normally views thyme as a autumny/wintry spice and tarragon as a more springy type addition.

                              Given the time of year, jfood would stay with the tarragon as another taste of the hopeful arrival of spring.

                              1. re: jfood

                                jfood: I just find tarragon a dominating herb and asparagus so delicate. Also, I always add fresh thyme from my garden (so tender its stems are thread-like) to fresh pea soup. So I don't necessarily consider it autumnal. Maybe I'll do a half-and-half and try both herbs.

                                I forget which recipe I linked, but I think it involved steaming the tips and stalks. Wanting to extract the most asparagus flavor, what are your thoughts on gently poaching the chopped stalks and tips, separately if necessary, in the cream called for in the recipe?

                                Lose volume of cream? Maybe remeasure and add sufficient cream to equal original volume, cool, proceed? I hope I don't get deleted for being too OT. Maybe OP needs this info as much as I do!

                                1. re: nemo

                                  with fresh thyme from the garden (maybe even some lemon thyme) that does sound very nice.

                                  mrs jfood also finds tarragon a bit dominating as well. jfood just loves it.

                                  1. re: jfood

                                    jfood, if you come into the city, you should try Tournesol in lic. It has a delicious snail appetizer in a tarragon sauce, with lots of tarragon.

                              2. re: nemo

                                My favorite celebration of asparagus is a recipe Alain Ducasse had in the NYTimes several years ago:
                                I've had success pulling out the custard prep and using the custards on their own, too.

                                I'm going to give the Gourmet recipe a shot, too, thanks!

                        2. My first thought was either roasted quail (make a lovely presentation) or whole roasted fish (salt crusted as mentioned below is a great idea). Or you could do smaller whole fish (one per person) stuffed with citrus and herbs and wrapped with prosciutto...

                          1. Cocktails and Appitizers....
                            SHRIMP.....Creole.. Etouffee.. Stew-Fay...Choose one..Or one of your own ideas.
                            A very nice green salad.
                            Crusty French/Italian Bread..
                            Warm No nonsense Bread pudding/bourbon sauce.

                            1. Try a slow-roasted shoulder of pork studded with garlic cloves. The outside should become pleasantly crunchy while the meat becomes fork-tender. Serve with salsa verde, or perhaps an apple-based sauce.

                              With the end of winter approaching, you could do something seasonal like rabbit, as well, though it is harder to stretch for a crowd. Personally I enjoy rabbit cooked alla cacciatore.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: JungMann

                                I just made three of Ina Garten's recipes for Sunday dinner. Roasted chicken, roasted carrots and potato fennel gratin. All were wonderful and very easy to prepare.

                              2. I think it's already been mentioned, but I will also endorse a Cornish hen. They make an impressive presentation at the table and are so fun to cook- like little babies. I do a version stuffed with green pepper, mushroom, oregano, onion and garlic and basted with butter. Did it on Xmas eve and it was a total hit!

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: maddogg280

                                  "Like little babies." HAhHAhahhAHha that's the best! I'm going to think of that every time I make one now!

                                  1. re: link_930

                                    reminds me of the practical joke where someone put a cornish hen inside the roast turkey to make others think the "turkey was pregnant" (despite all biological logic that it just doesn't work that way)

                                    1. re: DGresh

                                      Jfood remembers a recipe (thinks galloping gourmet) which was a triple-stuffed chicken. It was boneless chicken, stuffed with chicken based stuffing with a hard boiled egg as the inner most leyer. Then when he served it, he sliced through so you can see the lineage of the meal.

                                2. pork braised in milk. i'm a fan of the recipe in tony bourdain's les halles cookbook. i've been having furtive daydreams of this dish for the past few days, hence my vote. this site has a copy of his recipe:

                                  1. jfood also thinks cornish hens would be a nice choice, plus if you have a butcher or the knife skills to de-bone them, they make a beautiful presentation and ease of eating.

                                    1. Have you thought about a paella. We served it on New YEars Eve.

                                      If you do not have a paella pan, and who does, you can use a deep dish pizza pan that is avaiable at places like Crate and Barrel, they are not expensive.

                                      You can get most of the ingredients at Trader Joes.

                                      The Paella, presents nicely for 8, you can rearrange the clambs, shrimps and muscles in sections, people will be impressed, it looks much harder that it is. You can start with a nice salad.

                                      Here is the recipe that I have used.

                                      6 tablespoons olive oil
                                      1 cup minced onions
                                      1 each small-sized sweet red and green bell peppers, seeded, and cut into strips
                                      1 cup drained, chopped canned tomatoes
                                      1 tablespoon minced garlic
                                      1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
                                      1 (2 1/2 pound) chicken, cut into serving pieces, patted dry
                                      Salt and freshly ground black pepper
                                      3 chorizos, sliced into 1/4-inch thick half circles
                                      1/2 cup dry white wine
                                      3 cups long-grain rice
                                      1/4 teaspoon ground saffron or saffron threads
                                      5 to 6 cups simmering chicken stock
                                      12 extra-large shrimps in their shells, shelled and deveined, leaving tails intact
                                      12 hard-shelled clams, such as littlenecks, scrubbed
                                      12 mussels, scrubbed
                                      1 cup peas
                                      Lemon wedges, for garnish
                                      Minced fresh parsley
                                      Make the sofrito: In a heavy 12-inch skillet heat 3 tablespoons olive oil until hot, add the onions, and pepper strips and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes.
                                      Add tomatoes, garlic, and thyme and cook, stirring for 5 minutes more, until most of the liquid in the pan evaporates and the mixture is thick.
                                      Season the chicken with salt and pepper. In the skillet heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil over moderately high heat until hot. Add the chicken
                                      and cook it, turning. Add sausages and cook until lightly browned. Transfer to a plate and deglaze pan with 1/2 cup dry white wine.
                                      About a 30 minutes before you plan to serve the paella, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a 14-inch paella pan or shallow casserole at least
                                      14-inches in diameter, combine the sofrito, rice, and the saffron. Pour in 5 cups simmering stock and, stirring constantly, bring to a boil over high heat.
                                      Remove the pan from the heat immediately and season with salt. Arrange the chicken, sausage, shrimp, clams, and mussels on top of the rice.
                                      Set the pan on the floor of the oven or the lowest shelf and bake uncovered for 20 minutes. Scatter the peas at random over the whole and bake for
                                      5 to 10 minutes more or until all the liquid has been absorbed by the rice and the grains are tender but not too

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: normalheightsfoodie

                                        Normalheights foodie just beat me to the punch. Paella is really delicious and elegant and looks like a ton of work. If you have a good fish monger or market to buy good fish, it can be put together in a snap. Make sure to get a good chorizo (dry spanish sausage) because it gives so much flavor to the dish. I make this every year for Mother's day. I use my Le Crueset dutch oven and it comes out perfectly every single time.

                                        1. re: normalheightsfoodie

                                          I second paella. I just made it on Sunday for my family of 'meat and potato' type eaters and they loved it. As a fun surprise, I had previously boiled and chilled a small whole lobster. I laid it on top of the paella just before the 15 minute rest period at the end of cooking (drape with a tea towel) and it warmed to room temp. Beautiful presentation. Then I took the lobster away to the kitchen and opened the claws and tail and added the meat to the paella. I agree, looks complicated but nothing easier. I have used an oversized frying pan that is attractive enough to take to the table but I just bought a beautiful copper paella pan at William Sonoma, when I had a temp Xmas job so I got a huge discount.

                                        2. I'm going to add another course, a neighbor had brought this up in discussion on Saturday night. He didn't give the recipe but those who had it were wowed. it sure sounded good.... Champagne Shrimp.

                                          From what I can gather it is shrimp with a champagne Bearnaise sauce. I would imagine this to be a first course. I saw several recipes, and this one is the one I'm going to try...
                                          I just noticed it was not a Bernaise sauce, but you get the idea...

                                            1. Sliced roast duck breast, score the skin with a knife and season with salt and garam masala before roasting. Roast potatoes or tomatoes are good with this, also celery root remoulade as a contrast.

                                              1. Bonber:

                                                What did you choose to do, don't leave us hanging.