How to Host a Dinner Party and Actually Enjoy It: Recipes and Realistic Goals

ROAST CHICKEN and a big salad will always be one of my favorite dinners to serve guests at home. It’s a perfect mix of cozy and fresh, especially appropriate in the spring, when the salad can be abundant with baby lettuce.

Two platters of food are all you need for this simple spring dinner party: one full of yogurt-brined chicken halves, the other, spring greens with fried dates. Add a loaf of bread and a make-ahead spiced green sauce to drag slices of chicken through. I like to place the platters right on the table and let guests pass them around, to share and come back for more as they wish. This passing and re-passing not only puts people in charge of what goes on their plates; it also creates a natural movement and connection that feeds more than just bellies.

Now more than ever, the act of gathering for a festive dinner is a useful ritual to bring into our lives. It’s uplifting, it’s fulfilling and it’s a lot of fun. With a little planning, it can be as much fun for the host as it is for the guests.

PARTY LOWDOWN From a seasoned food stylist and editor, this collection of recipes aims to make entertaining easy on the host.



Photo:

Chelsea Kyle

A roast chicken will almost always taste better if you give it a chance to sit in some seasoning overnight. I like a yogurt brine. I always have yogurt in my fridge; mixed with salt and slathered over chicken for a night, it works just as well as a traditional buttermilk brine, and I like the tartness it adds. I cut my chickens (two for a party of six to eight) in half before brining and roasting. Simply remove the backbone with kitchen shears, then divide the bird through the breast. Despite the severance, this act feels less brutal than a spatchcock and is certainly easier to figure out. Or ask your butcher to do it for you.

Chicken halves are easier to handle than whole birds. You can roast two chickens flat on a single sheet pan, faster and more evenly. In about 45 minutes, my yogurt-brined chicken halves are extra crispy and golden-brown on the outside, juicy inside.

The salad on this menu was inspired by one at Sofreh, my favorite Persian restaurant in Brooklyn. It had slivers of date and a tahini dressing I’ve been trying to recreate ever since. To give the dates a crunchy exterior, I fry them in a bit of olive oil. Be careful to keep the slices separated as you fry them—they’re sticky little things. For the dressing, I use my go-to tahini sauce, thinned with lemon juice and olive oil.

Now more than ever, the act of gathering for a festive dinner is a useful ritual to bring into our lives.

How you prepare greens for a salad makes a world of difference in the end result. Wash gently and well, then spin or shake dry, then lay the greens out to air-dry on a clean dish towel. Letting them dry completely means the dressing will evenly coat and stick to the greens. I try to do this the morning of a dinner party, then I gently bundle my greens in a dish towel, tuck the whole package right into my salad bowl, and store it in the fridge until it’s time to serve. Dress the salad only just before you are ready to eat, and use your hands, scooping and tossing the dressing over the leaves, and your gorgeous greens won’t get crushed, smashed or wilted by sharp utensils or tongs. Then use your hands (again, yes!) to transfer the salad to a platter, and scatter it with lots of crispy spring radish slices, fronds of fragrant dill, chives and those crispy dates.

Pass the chicken, pass the green sauce too, and don’t forget to be grateful that you can gather friends around your table this spring.

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This recipe can be easily halved to serve 3-4, if that’s the size of your party.

Chelsea Kyle

Ingredients

  • 2 cups plain full-fat yogurt
  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 4 chicken halves (or 2 chickens, backbones removed, cut in half through the breastbone)

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together yogurt, salt and 1 cup water. Place chicken halves in a gallon-size resealable bag and pour yogurt mixture over. Seal, pressing out all air, and toss to coat chicken well. Chill overnight or up to 2 days.
  2. When ready to roast, remove chicken from fridge and let warm slightly while you heat oven to 400 degrees. Remove chicken from bag, shake off any excess yogurt, and arrange, skin-side up, in a single layer on a sheet pan.
  3. Roast chicken in top third of oven, rotating pan once, halfway through cooking, until skin is golden brown and crisp, and an instant-read thermometer inserted in thickest part of breast registers 155 degrees, 35-45 minutes. (The temperature will climb to 165 as the chicken rests.) Let chicken halves rest on pan at least 15 minutes and up to 30. Serve on a cutting board with a sharp knife, or cut into quarters and transfer to a serving platter.

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Inspired by spicy, herby North African chermoula, this sauce is equal parts warming and refreshing.

Chelsea Kyle

Ingredients

  • 1 serrano chile, stemmed and cut into a few pieces
  • 1 bunch fresh parsley, toughest stems trimmed
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt

Directions

  1. In a blender or food processor, combine all ingredients and purée until smooth.
  2. This sauce keeps in an airtight container in the fridge up to 4 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.

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This recipe can be easily halved to serve 3-4 if that’s the size of your party. You will have leftover tahini sauce after making the dressing for this salad. Decadently creamy yet dairy free, it brings an extra dose of richness to vegetables, crunchy and raw or simply roasted.

Chelsea Kyle

Ingredients

  • ½ cup tahini
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 small heads lettuce, such as little gem, baby Bibb or baby romaine
  • 6 radishes, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 Medjool dates, pitted and sliced into quarters lengthwise
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Fresh chives and/or fresh dill, for topping

Directions

  1. Make the tahini sauce: In a small bowl, whisk together tahini, lemon juice, salt and ¼ cup water until smooth. If the sauce is too thick, whisk in more water to reach a pourable consistency. The sauce can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge up to 1 week. Bring to room temperature before making or whisk in a small splash of warm water to loosen it.
  2. Make the salad: Slice the root base off each head of lettuce, then separate leaves, inspecting and discarding any that are badly bruised, wilted or browning. Gently wash the leaves, drain or spin in a salad spinner, then lay out in a single layer on a clean dish cloth until completely dry. Gently bundle the dry leaves in the damp dish towel, and refrigerate (preferably in your salad bowl) up to 8 hours.
  3. Place thinly sliced radishes in a resealable container, top with ice and water, and refrigerate up to 1 day. (This trick not only lets you prep your radishes in advance, but it also makes them extra crispy, which is a very good thing.) If not prepping in advance, do this anyway—just let them sit at least 10 minutes to get that ice water crunch. When ready to assemble the salad, drain radishes well in a colander, shaking off as much excess water as possible.
  4. Just before serving, in a large cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon oil. Add date strips, toss to coat, and cook, tossing occasionally, until dates are crisped and darkened, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
  5. Transfer lettuce and radishes to a large bowl and season with 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Toss gently with your hands to combine.
  6. Whisk together remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons tahini sauce and lemon juice, then drizzle over salad and toss gently with your hands to coat. Taste a dressed leaf and add more salt if needed. Transfer to a serving platter (with your hands, to avoid bruising the delicate leaves), and top with fried dates, chives and/or dill, and freshly ground black pepper.

Click here to view this recipe in our recipes section.

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