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I often find myself getting asked to help cater for parties of 50-100 people and I always end up cooking the same 5-10 recipes so I'm looking for some ideas to help bring a bit of variety to my repotoire. Ideally I'd like suggestions for things that are:

  • Easy to make in large quantities
  • Not very time consuming
  • Can be prepared in advance (up to a week)
  • Taste Great :)
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This should probably be a wiki... –  Lee Jul 10 '10 at 4:37
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What kinds of things are you looking for? Main dishes? Desserts? Sides? –  Lee Jul 10 '10 at 4:38
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Chili and stew can both be prepared in large pots (or slow cookers), and frozen until needed. –  derobert Jul 10 '10 at 5:13
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Post your 5-10 recipes as well, this can be a big "cooking for the masses" community wiki repository –  moonshadow Jul 10 '10 at 17:34
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A week in advance? No. No no. Unless you're freezing the product, which usually means it suffers. NOTHING should be cooked and then kept for a week before serving. (Pickling and other preservation methods aside, obviously). –  daniel Apr 29 '11 at 17:23
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4 Answers

Chicken subdgee!

Proportions for 10-12 servings:

  • 2 large onions (or 4-5 regular size)
  • 2 thumb lengths fresh ginger
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • Green chillies to taste
  • 4 tins tomatoes
  • 2-3 tbsp salt
  • 3 tbsp garam masala (get it unbranded from an asian store, not a supermarket brand - the latter don't taste of very much and come in tiny amounts for the same price as half-kilo bags from asian stores).
  • 2 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander seed
  • 1-2 teaspoons turmeric (careful! - it stains!)
  • 1.5kg chicken on the bone. Don't make it all breast. Half breasts half thighs works well, as does all thighs (and thighs are cheap), as does getting 2-3 entire small chickens, skinning them and chopping them into eighths.
  • Fresh coriander leaves - either a large bunch from an asian store, or 3-4 of the tiny packets you get in supermarkets. The former is much cheaper but comes complete with roots which need trimming off and clods of earth which need to be washed off, so is much more fuss.

(warning: you need a seriously large pan for the amounts above. I use a large cauldron. You could use several pans, though, or reduce the amounts of ingredients while maintaining the proportions).

Peel and finely chop the onions, ginger and garlic; also finely chop chillies. Melt some ghee or vegetable oil in a very large pan. Put the onions, ginger, garlic and chillies in, stir and cover with lid. Stir once a minute or so until onions start turning translucent (4-5 minutes).

Stir in the tomatoes and salt and turn the heat up. Once they start bubbling, stir in the garam masala, cumin, coriander seed and turmeric. Let it bubble for 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Separate any skin from the chicken, and put it in the pan. You don't need to chop it (well, unless you got entire chickens rather than breasts/thighs). I like skin, so I put that in too. Give it a good stir and leave to simmer for at least 40-45 minutes but the longer the nicer up to three hours or so, stirring every so often so that it doesn't stick to the bottom, until the liquid goes dark and there is a layer of transparent liquid at the top, with a few grease spots.

While you are waiting, prepare the fresh coriander. If you got it from a supermarket, wash well and chop. If you got it from an asian store, remove the large clods of earth, individually take the leaves off the stalks (this takes ages - get someone to help, if you can), discard the stalks, wash the leaves well - discarding any yellow or brown ones - and chop. Also start the rice going about 20 minutes before the end.

Stir in the coriander just before serving. You can keep it in the fridge for at most three days, but it freezes very well.


Notes from experience:

  • 100 portions of this takes around two man hours from turning up with bags of product to having the meat simmering (using a food processor for the onions, garlic and ginger; it'll take longer by hand, natch). You'll want the simmer stage for at least an hour to ensure everything is sufficiently heated through for safety (and ideally use a thermometer to check core temperature, natch), but ideally 3-4 hours to properly soften the meat so it falls off the bone. The proportions above that work for a dozen portions do not quite scale correctly to 100; the result is too liquid. Having performed several experiments, ~10% more onion and ~15-20% less tomato than suggested above seems to work best.

  • You can prepare a vegetarian alternative by splitting off a portion of the base just before adding the meat, then mixing in vegetables; experiment and post results here! I have attempted cauliflower, potato, carrot, swede... what works very well is 2 carrots, 1 potato, 1/2 small swede, 100g okra, two mugs soaked yellow lentils for ~8 vegetarian portions. You'll need to add quite a lot of extra liquid to the vegetarian version - hot water or vegetable stock, perhaps enough to double the volume. The vegetables take 40-50 minutes of simmering to cook, so if you're aiming for a 4 hour simmer on the meat you'll want to cool the vegetarian portion of base and keep it refrigerated until an hour before serving time; note this makes it a reheated food, which may have implications for handing out doggy bags etc depending on catering regulations in your area.

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Is there any reason to discard the stalks? I just wash the coriander, cut off the roots, and then chop the whole bunch up. –  Joel in Gö Sep 1 '10 at 15:34
    
They tend to be covered in too much grit to clean off. If that's not the case for you, keep them. –  moonshadow Sep 1 '10 at 17:50
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Lamb plov!

1 part cotton oil to 3 parts chopped carrots to 3 parts diced lamb to 3 parts rice by weight.

Again, proportions for 10-12 servings:

  • 1kg carrots, chopped
  • 1kg lamb, diced; neck is nice but anything goes
  • 300g cotton oil
  • ~5 cups rice
  • 4-5 medium-sized, roughly chopped onions (keep half of one unchopped)
  • 1tbsp cumin (or more; cumin's nice..)
  • 2-3tbsp salt
  • some pepper and bayleaf
  • boiling water

Lots of other things can be added to taste - olives, raisins, lime, saffron.. but purists will say it's best plain.

Heat a dry(!) cauldron for a few seconds on maximum heat. Pour in the oil. It will soon start giving off a slight steamy smoke; when it does, throw in the unchopped half-onion. When the half-onion turns completely black, the oil is ready; remove the half-onion and throw it away. Put the meat in the cauldron (it'll spit!) and fry, stirring continuously, until you can't see pink bits any more (7-8 minutes; it'll probably still be pink inside, which is OK.) Chuck in the chopped onions and reduce the heat slightly. Let the onions fry for a minute or two while stirring them, then add the carrots. Stir the mix every minute or two so it doesn't stick. When the carrots start going soft and slightly pale (~10-15 minutes), add the salt, pepper, cumin, bayleaf etc; also the hot water - the same amount by volume(!) as the rice. Let the whole lot simmer for another 10-15 minutes on small heat.

Turn the flame to maximum and add the (washed) rice. The water should rise about half an inch above the top of the stew. Stir continuously, scraping along the bottom - you are trying to stop the mixture from sticking, and also trying to make the water boil out as quickly as possible. As soon as the water boils out, add a small amount of cold water (~half a cup to 5 cups of rice), turn the heat down as low as possible and cover with a tight lid. The plov will be ready 20 minutes after that.

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Another criteria that you didn't mention, but should have: the ability to be held at the serving temperature for a reasonably long time. When you've got a big crowd, you don't have the luxury of finishing everything at the last minute.

Some foods need to be served right after cooking - those are the ones you don't want. Examples: most (not all) pasta dishes. Anything deep fried. Meat that's cooked rare or rare-ish - unless it's really large pieces like a whole rib-eye roast. Vegetables that overcook easily, like asparagus or spinach. Fish that overcook easily (which is most of them).

Here are some of the foods that do stand up well to long holding: Root vegetables. Winter squashes. Meat or poultry stews. Rice. Legumes. Most Indian and Pakistani curries.

Here are some specific ideas (I won't give you recipes, you should be able to google them yourself):

  • Coq au vin.
  • Choucroute garnie.
  • Chana masala.
  • Feijoada.
  • New England clam chowder.
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Have you checked out the US Armed Forces Recipe Service? I can't vouch for the quality of the food as it is, but the US DoD has been doing that sort of thing so long that even private caterers sometimes use their recipes.

Also, a very simple baked ziti -- take ziti or penne, cook them, toss them in tomato sauce, and layer with mozzarella and parmesan cheese, then bake. That is damn close to every informal banquet hall event from Pennsylvania to Maine.

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