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Best Wedding Mains

I'm in the incredibly lucky position of planning my wedding coming up in August out in Colorado.

I'd love some input planning the menu. As a bit of background--we're a late 20s foodie-ish couple from the east coast with guests of varying adventurism flying in from all over the globe. 80ish people max in a restaurant/wedding venue attached to a ski resort (ie, catering on-site, professional kitchen, processional staff, etc.). We were presented with a list of suggestions, none of which got us excited. When the chef suggested risotto as a vegetarian option, we not only nixed that (there's no way that's gonna be edible when it comes out), but started thinking about other choices not on the menu. Thankfully, the catering team is willing to work with us.

This is where I could use some help. The plan is to offer three options--a chicken, a fish, and a vegetarian one. Other posts here on vegetarian options have given us a ton of choices for the vegee one, but what about the other two? Wedding food is never going to blow you away, but we're looking for plates (main/sauce, sides) that are delicious and can be prepared in quantity by a catering team of unknown qualtity (ie, nothing out of a Thomas Keller cook book, I don't think). If folks have good suggestions that aren't chicken/fish, that would be fine as well.

What are the most memorable wedding meals that you've ever had? I've just had so many bad ones (I still shudder thinking about that steak that I had at a very expensive venue in New York a few years back). I'd like to stack the deck in our favor here--suggestions appreciated!

Thanks!

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  1. I think the idea that risotto cooked for a crowd can't be edible is foodie snobism.

    My friends and I universally agree that the second helping of risotto is always better than the first, having sat for at least 10 minutes. What other dish is there where seconds actually taste better?

    2 Replies
    1. re: jaykayen

      Could be. I've just had too many dry, gluey risotto servings at weddings that I'd rather not subject my guests to that. We're probably going to do a pollenta cake with red pepper coulis for the veg entree unless we arrive at something better, but the non-vegetarian protein entrees are worrying me. Thanks again for help!

      1. re: pastaguy

        I'd much prefer risotto to polenta cake - but then I like my polenta as mush rather then cake. It wounds like an app to me, unless it is surrounded by a colorful assortment of crsip veggies, which all entrees should anyway. And if you are having 80 guests, how many would choose the veggie option, so executing risotto for 10 - 20 is really not difficult. I've done it quite successfully as a home cook for dinner parties.

        Over 20 years ago offering a veggie dish wasn't expected. Everyone got swordfish k-bobs and steak k-bobs with a generous crisp medley of veggies. We forget the starch. We had a killer salad that included jicama which wasn't as widely used then. As the wedding couple, we barely tasted our food, as others have suggested.

    2. First of all, congratulations.

      I can't recall a wedding reception meal that wasn't horrible, and "memorable" would be in the negative sense. You might wind up having to shoot for "doesn't suck".

      Chicken: unless you can guarantee that your guests are open-minded, chances are you're going to be serving chicken breast (or supreme if you think they'll go for the attached wing bone), which in wedding-speak is generally overcooked and quite dry. Sous-vide might solve some of the overcooking issues, but I'd apply the KISS principle after that and go with a good jus and whatever's seasonal in Colorado. Morels come to mind, but that's more a spring thing.

      Fish - go for something with a higher oil content since it's going to have less of a chance drying out when it's overcooked (and it will be). I'd suggest something like sablefish; there are producers in BC which produce a really nice lightly-smoked one which can be transformed beautifully under a variety of steamed or moist roasting applications.

      I was thinking pork belly as another protein that doesn't suffer too much, but it's a bit heavy for August.

      Exactly how formal will your reception be?

      1. When I think of Colorado..... Prime Lamb and Beef comes to mind, not chicken. I'm no etiquette expert on wedding invitations, but consider asking your guests to provide their preferences for their entree on your wedding day. The way costs are determined for your menu has to do with what you decide to make available. If you offer fish, then they have to prepare a large amount of fish...whether any guests order it or not.. a smarter route would be to have fish available for Pescetarians or a vegetarian option for the Vegetarians.

        1. My uncle does a lot of catering for a crowd with his Italian American men's club. His chicken Marsala is great and stays moist while not separating etc. He starts them on te stove and finishes them in the oven. You could fancy it up with local mushrooms instead of the traditional ones or change up the type of wine (and not call it marsala). Braising chicken is another way of avoiding te dries out. A caciatore would be another way to go using chicken , perhaps thighs?

          Fish can usually be saved by a great sauce, so whatever you decide, be sure it isn't just fish on a plate.

          1 Reply
          1. re: melpy

            I agree with the chicken marsala idea. I went to a wedding where this was served and it was pretty tasty and not dry from all that yummy sauce. A suggestion for fish might be a white fish prepared en papillote? Keeps the fish very moist and it has a lovely presentation.

          2. I would never do a chicken for a group of 80, especially from an unknown source. Frankly, red meat is the easier way to go here for good food. Braised short ribs with mashed potatoes, or lamb shank or rack of lamb would be my three out of the box suggestions. All of them can be cooked in grater quantities and should not suffer from dryness as they plate the party all at once.

            There might be a nice local trout or other lake fish that the crew is used to handling. If not, a good line caught salmon or even a seared tuna steak.

            4 Replies
            1. re: ocshooter

              For an August wedding, I'd think the braised short ribs and/or braised lamb shanks would be too heavy for the wedding guests, although a petite filet is never out of style.

              For the OP, salmon would keep its moistness (and as someone else suggested, en papillote would help keep it that way), and perhaps a mushroom moussaka for the vegetarians? And what about heritage pork as a replacement for the chicken? It's *much* more flavorful than "regular" pork (tastes the way pork used to).

              1. re: ocshooter

                I would never serve lamb for a group of 80. Many people (myself included) do not like lamb.

                1. re: laliz

                  Whereas it would be my choice over anything else. But I do agree with you - it's one of those that has a love/hate relationship with people and probably isn't the best choice for a wedding dinner. :-)

                  1. re: LindaWhit

                    With 2 other options, you are not locking people into lamb if they don't like it. Steaks are too difficult to do in large numbers; while I can't stand anything beyond medium, I know people who won't eat anything less than medium rare. How do you do that for a large group? What I like about lamb shank and beef ribs is that you do them at basically one temp. Even if they get overcooked, the sauce keeps them moist.

                    In college, we had a faculty club that used student waiters and hosted events throughout the year, in addition to M-F lunch and dinner service. I used to work 2-3 weddings most weekends, so I have been to 100s of weddings. Prime rib was a popular choice, but I really don't care for it as a cut. But it was pretty much the only meat (maybe also lamb chops) where you can ask for a certain 'doneness' in a large group. A waiter can look through a tray full of plates and make sure that the few folks who insist on a temp can get something close. There is no way to do that with steaks. Chicken is almost always dry, unless you slather it in a sauce or do it Cordon Blue, and I don't eat ham, so that isn't my style. You could do a beef or salmon Wellington, but that gets pretty pricey and is at least as heavy as the ribs or shank.

                    The two best weddings I attended, food wise, were at a Teppan Restaurant and at an estate in the English countryside where they served Thai food, since the bride was Thai. But I doubt the resort in Colorado has 8 Teppan grills they can roll out and I would not do Thai for a large group without a thematic reason.