Updated: Jul 9, 2021
Planning a menu for a meal can be quite tricky and there are many parts to consider. I list here the five things I think about, to make for an unforgettable dinner every time. It seems to work, as my guests often mentions how they perceived the meal as something extraordinary and they remember the whole menu. However I rarely remember menus though, as each menu and occasion is unique to me and I think that might be my big secret. I never repeat the exact same menu, even if I have some fundamental ideas I work from.
The first thing you should think about is what kind of meal you are serveing. Is it a formal three-course dinner where each dish is served on a seperate plate or is it a buffet where you have several foods to chose from? When serving plated dinner, you decide the portion size and exactly what each person should get. At the buffet, you often add a couple of extra accessories and need to calculate for more food.
What is more important, the food or the intercourse? If socializing is most important, choose food that does not need to be served at a perfect temperature. If the food itself is the focus, you can make a little more advanced dishes and ensure that they get a perfect serving with temperatures and plating. Whatever type of meal you are going to serve, you always want a dynamic and you always want it adapted to the occasion.
I usually start to think about what is in season when I set which foods I should start from. Mainly what is available, of good quality and at a good price. I also think of seasonal in style, like having heavier food when it's cold outside and lighter when it's hot. I would also say that there are seasons for different cooking methods. I use wok more during spring / summer, barbecue is an obvious summer cooking. Pots, soup and slow cooker are more in the fall and winter. And during February - March, you just have to learn to do magic with the few ingredients that are in season. As I love to work from constraints, February - March is my most creative period for new recipes. These seasonal treats apply as long as you are in the Nordic countries, in other places what and how to cook according to the season can vary according to the climate and the availability of foods on site.
Dynamics between dishes
If you serve more then one dish, it usually good to think about making every other dish "light" and every other "heavy". What is perceived as light and heavy food is different for all, however in general I would say that hot, chewy and oily food is perceived as heavy; cool, crisp and sour food is perceived as light. You can also lighten up a rather heavy dish by adding a fresh crisp salad. It's hard to say if anything is right or wrong, however dynamics is important. That is that the different dishes gives a different feeling. I also believe in always finishing off with something sweet, to get a really good final feeling.
Dynamics within a dish
You also want dynamism within every dish, especially in textures. I would suggest that each dish consists of three to five components. You can have more, but that rarely makes the dish better. In those components, you should try to get different textures. It is often good to try to include something crunchy, something creamy and something chewey to make it feel like a complete dish. An example could be fried herring with mashed potatoes and green peas (a traditional Swedish dish). You have crunch and chewiness in the fish, creaminess in the mashed potatoes and crist in the green peas. If you want to add more dynamic, you can add shredded butter (oiliness) and lingonberries (acidity, freshness). At a buffet table, you usually add some extra accessories, for being able to choose according to taste. But the more options you give, the more food you will get left with. Which can be both good and bad, I like to avoid throwing away any food though.
Symbiosis within and between dishes
We have talked about the dynamics and that we want contrasts and differences within the foods. But the big key to bringing a perfect balance and feeling to an unforgettable meal, is to have a common thread through everything at the same time. I often choose a flavor that comes back in all dishes and if you have the opportunity, also match it with the beverage. My favorite is using citrus fruits. In summer I usually use lime, spring and autumn I use lemon and in winter I use orange. You can then use pieces of fruit in the starter, the juice for dressing, some peel in the sauce and maybe grated peel and juice in the dessert. As well as matching with a wine that has a note of the same citrus fruit. This ties together the whole meal and I promise your guests will be delighted!
I hope you got some valueble good advice and tips from this lineup! Please comment if you agree or if there is other things you are think about.
Don't forget to check out the YouTube video with 6 tips on everything you need to keep in mind when planning a dinner party (released 9 / 7-21).
Remember: only eat what you enjoy, and enjoy all you eat!
See you next week!