We’re had Gordon and Angela over for dinner this past Saturday and of course, I am still on this Tapas kick so we’re doing Tapas Around the World Part III. Recently a dear friend’s mother reached out asking about tips and tricks to serve a successful tapas dinner (at least, in my own little mind, they have been successful!!), so this post will focus on my tips and tricks! Hope it helps, Noni!
- 4-6 (including yourselves) is an ideal grouping for tapas, more than 6 is a cocktail party!
- Mix it up – serve cold, room temperature and hot dishes so that you’re not standing in the kitchen the entire time.
- Mix up sharing portions and mini individual portions (this allows some who are hungrier to help themselves to a second helping).
- Prepare in advance and make notes on what’s next (there will always be distractions when you entertain, so I find the notes extremely helpful to make sure I don’t forget something!)
- KIS – keep it simple. Don’t plan to make something complicated that will take you away from your guests for more than 5-10 minutes at a time.
- Plan your plating. I generally take out all the dishes I am planning to use and have them ready in the order of the courses. This way you’re not scrambling to find something last minute (check out Tap Phong on Spadina in Toronto, the most amazing store for unique, inexpensive plates!).
- Plan to have things your spouse can do (such as grilling), that way you can share the cooking time and alternate being with your guests.
- Use prepared sauces adjusting to your specific taste; you don’t have to make everything from scratch!
- Multi purpose for example, two out of the three desserts will have Crème Anglais, one I will heat, the other will be served cold.
- Determine where courses will be eaten (we like to begin the kitchen on our soapstone island and end up in the living room in front of a roaring fire, but you can also move around, depending on what you are serving).
- Wrap necessary cutlery in a napkin per person and have it ready in the living room (or where ever you plan to eat your tapas).
I have had good success with four rounds of three (four stages, each with three small portions or sharing portions). I will often try to incorporate a portion of something that I have made in bulk and frozen sometime previously and just have to cook/bake – that takes off some pressure of creating everything from scratch just for that meal. You can also mix it up with store-bought items and some home-made to help with the work load.
This is the menu for last Saturday night, my notes for pre-preparation (to do the day or days in advance) are below and the order of preparation (during the dinner party) are below that. It’s a lot more prep work ahead of time, but it does give you a lot more time to enjoy your guests.
Round 1: Thai
- Lemongrass soup (May be prepared 1-2 days in advance and refrigerated. Reheat in microwave when ready to serve). I left out the shrimp this time, due to an aversion to seafood.
- Pork Saté and peanut sauce (Prepare morning of, soak wooden skewers, marinate pork and refrigerate until ready to grill; Prepare peanut sauce in advance or use store bought, refrigerate).
- 10-ingredient slaw (Prepare the morning of, keeping the wetter ingredients separate from the drier ones (such as cucumbers are wet, cabbage is dry) so the slaw stays crunchy. Combine and dress just before serving).
Round 2: Spain
- Chorizo and Tomato Sausage (Prepare raw ingredients and combine, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate, ready for a quick fry).
- Onion and Orange Salad (Prepare in advance so the onions have time to mellow). Store covered in refrigerator, I store in serving dish to save time later.
- Bacon wrapped dates (I generally make these in bulk, so all I have to do is pulled out the required quantity from the freezer and bake when ready to serve).
Round 3: India
- Onion Bhaji with mango sauce (I prepared a bulk quantity of onion bhaja’s in advance and froze them – you can buy ready made bhaja’s to simplify. Now I have onion bhaja’s for another couple tapas dinners; Mango sauce was Sensations from Sobeys with a minor adjustment)
- Mini Naan with Butter Chicken (I made butter chicken for dinner on Wednesday night and made too much on purpose; you can do this virtually with anything!)
- Carrot Pickle (I made this a couple of days in advance, but you can buy ready made condiments just as easily).
Round 4: France
- Madeleine’s with Crème Anglais (I generally make Madeleine’s in bulk and freeze, so I just pull out the number I need). I made Crème Anglais the night before for another dinner party, so I just made too much and refrigerated)
- Crêpe Suzette (I made Crèpes for breakfast the day before, and as usual, I made too much batter so I decided to make the crèpes for the tapas in advance and refrigerate. Remember that these are small portions so the crèpes are only 5″ in diameter!).
- Ile Flottante (Crème Anglais from night before; I made the Ile the morning of).
Below is an example of what my notes would be a few days prior to the event:
Prepare a couple of days in advance:
- Cook lemongrass soup, cool and refrigerate.
- Create onion bhajas and freeze (I ran out of my stash, so I had to make them again).
- Create Bacon wrapped dates and freeze (I ran out of my stash, so I had to make them again).
- Butter Chicken (I planned to make this for dinner during the week and reserve a small portion for Saturday night – about one to two chicken chunks per person).
- Prepare Carrot pickle (this needs to sit in the dressing a few days to allow it to pickle). Refrigerate.
- Make crèpes, cover and refrigerate.
- Make Crème Anglais, cool, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Prepare the day of (this takes about 3 hours or so):
- Marinate pork with a store bought peanut marinate (I altered mine to my taste) and skewer on soaked wooden sticks, wrap in cello and refrigerate.
- Prepare the ingredients for the 10-ingredient slaw; keep wet ingredients such as mango and cucumber separate to the drier ones such as radish and cabbage. Do not dress until 10 minutes before serving (doing so will wilt the slaw and it will become too sloppy).
- Prepare the onion and orange salad (chop a few extra onions for the chorizo, this saves time). This salad needs to be dressed in advance so that the citrus can mellow the onion. Cover well and refrigerate (not covering will make your fridge smell like onions!)
- Crêpe Suzette: prepare the orange liquor sauce and reserve (no need to refrigerate).
- Prepare the Ile Flottante and allow to cool, refrigerate. (I put the ile into the individual dishes, covered and refrigerated so all I had to do was pour the Crème Anglais on top, and one of my three dessert courses was complete!).
The Main Event. My actual notes are not nearly as detailed, but since I am giving pointers, I thought I would add as much detail and thought behind my madness!
- Guests arrive and beverages are served in the kitchen. I asked JT to grill pork satays, so the men do that outdoors while the women chat in the kitchen. We continued to chat and eat pork satay with peanut sauce in the kitchen.
- JT had prepared a fire in the fireplace in advance, so all he had to do was light it. We moved to the living room and JT lit the fire. This gave me a moment to clean up the kitchen a bit and heat up the soup in the microwave. While the soup is heating, I assembled the slaw and dressed it. On a large tray, we served the individual soup cups, and small plates for the sharing portion of the slaw. The lovely thing about tapas is that you can pace yourselves, so if one coarse is heavier, take a few extra minutes before serving the next round!
- We cleared the dishes and JT cut the bread, and brought out plates for the Spanish tapas, which were all sharing portions. The onion and orange salad was prepared in advance so all I did was pour it into the previously chosen serving bowl. The bacon wrapped dates take about 10 minutes on 375•F and the chorizo and tomato takes about 6 minutes. I cooked the chorizo while the dates were baking. We served it all at once. Because this course was sharing, it took a bit longer to eat particularly with the great conversations we were having!
- Because the courses are getting heavier, I waited for the Spanish course to be 1/2 finished before I put the rice on for the butter chicken. It takes 20 minutes and I wanted about 10-15 minutes between courses.
- When we cleared the dishes from the Spanish course, I started heating the butter chicken in the microwave (sauce and chicken heating separately, to keep the chicken whole and not mushy). The onion bhaji’s go into the oven for about 10 minutes on 350•F to heat through (they are already cooked from deep frying previously, I just need to reheat). The sauce for the bhaji was prepared in advance and was ready waiting on the serving platter. The pickle was also prepared in advance and already in the serving dish.
- The Indian course was served at once.
- Dessert had a bit more time between. I had previously plated the Ile Flottante so I just had to pour the Crème Anglais over it. Then I heated the remainder Crème Anglais for the Madeleine’s. The mini crépes had been prepared in advance, as had the orange sauce for the Crépes Suzettes. I heated the sauce in a pan, added the crépes and heated them through. Once the crépes were done, I plated and added the finishing touches and served. In the meantime, JT made espressos and dessert was enjoyed by the fire.
Tapas seem like a lot of work, but it really is a well orchestrated symphony of courses. I’d love to hear your comments about your tapas dinner. Please let me know how it works out.