Let me begin by saying that anyone who invites you over for dinner is doing you a favor. Without question, hosting dinner is hard work–the shopping, the prepping, the actual cooking, plus the cleaning–and anyone who takes it upon themselves to do all of that for you deserves your gratitude. That said, sometimes somebody invites you over for dinner and then serves a meal that feels a bit, well, punishing. Often it has nothing to do with the cooking skills involved; usually it has a lot more to do with the recipe choice. Which is why I’ve decided to compile a list of ten things you should never serve at a dinner party. Avoid these ten dishes like the plague and not only will your dinner guests swoon, they’ll even help you do the dishes.
Ten Things You Should Never Serve At A Dinner Party
1. Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts.
I’ve written about this before, and it bears repeating: there is no reason, ever, to buy boneless skinless chicken breasts*. If you’re on a diet, it’s better to buy chicken with the skin on, cook it that way, so the meat stays moist, and then remove the skin. What you get when you don’t have anything protecting the meat is dry, leathery, inedible chicken. And also, if you’re on a diet? Don’t have a dinner party. Or do and don’t make everyone else be on a diet along with you. (* There’s one acceptable way to serve boneless, skinless chicken breasts and that’s pounded into submission, coated in breadcrumbs and Parmesan, fried in oil, and topped with salad. But that’s hard to do for a crowd.)
2. Steamed Vegetables
Once again, if you’re on a diet, that’s great! Steamed vegetables are a terrific idea for shedding those extra pounds. But you know what they’re not great for? Serving guests. Seriously, presenting a bunch of pale, water-logged vegetables on a plate is like slapping your dinner guests in the face. At least have some decency and pour a little melted butter on top. Or, better yet, just roast them.
3. Turkey Meatloaf
Nobody likes turkey meatloaf. If they like it, they like it because it reminds them of actual meatloaf: so make actual meatloaf or don’t make it at all. To put it another way, when a dinner guest shows up at your house and asks, “Wat’s for dinner?” and you say, “Turkey meatloaf” they may be working really hard to keep the smile on their face, but deep down, they’re thinking: “Oh shit. Turkey meatloaf? Blech.”
4. Kale Salad
This will be the most controversial entry on my list, because there’s a good chance some of you have served kale salad to dinner guests (I’ve done it once or twice). The thing is that though raw kale is good for you, it takes a lot of work to make the act of eating it pleasurable. It is possible–just barely possible–to make a raw kale salad enjoyable, but to accomplish that you’ll need to toss your raw kale with lots of garlicky bread crumbs and Pecorino cheese. But once you do that, you’re probably negating the health benefits you were seeking in the first place, so what’s the point of serving a raw kale salad at all? Exactly. Let’s face it: raw kale isn’t dinner party material.
5. Homemade Pizza
Unless your name is Gwyneth Paltrow and you have a wood-burning oven in your backyard, chances are that the pizza you make at home isn’t as good as the pizza you can order from your local pizza joint (where the ovens go up to 800 degrees; yours can only hit 500). Which is fine if you’re looking to save money and want to serve your spouse and kids a fun, festive, resourceful dinner. I get homemade pizza for the family. But when you have people over, and you feed your homemade pizza to them, you’re basically saying, “Look, I know you can get this better somewhere else, but you’re in my house and you’re going to eat my puffy, too-bready pizza and you’re going to like it!” Exception: grilled pizza is good.
6. Gluten-Free Bread Products (To People Who Aren’t Gluten-Free)
There are two groups, now, as far as the gluten-free movement goes: those who are genuinely suffering from celiac disease, and those who follow diet fads who think of “gluten-free” as the latest version of the Atkins diet. So many gluten-free products exist now, my local grocery store just debuted a brand new “Gluten-Free” section with a big lighted display. Again, this is a boon to anyone who’s genuinely suffering; and everyone else, Godspeed. But if you’re inviting me over for dinner, and you’re looking to make a gluten-free meal, just skip the bread/pasta/cookies entirely. Go with meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, whatever. As I Tweeted the other day, gluten-free pizza is like a sex-free honeymoon. No thanks.
7. Ingredients Wildly Out of Season
Look, there’s a level of snobbery that borders on the obnoxious. If it’s August and you’re serving strawberries, that’s cool. They’re not really in season anymore, but it’s close enough. Same with tomatoes and corn in November; or premature peaches in June. But if it’s the dead of winter, and we’re in a snow storm in North Dakota, and you break out the asparagus, wrapped in cellophane and shipped from God-knows-where, I can promise you it’s not going to taste very good. Also, who wants to eat asparagus in a snow storm? If this kind of thing intimidates you, your best bet is to visit a local farmer’s market just to get a sense of what kind of stuff is growing at the present time of year. Or buy a book by Alice Waters; she’ll show you the way.
8. Raw Oysters
A lot can go wrong with raw oysters. From where you buy them, to how you store them, to how you shuck them, they have the potential to make your dinner guests very sick. Now if you live somewhere where oysters are plentiful, and you get them straight from the source and you know how to store them and how to shuck them properly (here’s a tutorial), more power to you. But everyone else? Skip the oysters.
9. Homemade Sushi
If your name is Jiro, you can skip this one. Everyone else: that’s cute that you took a class on sushi-making on your honeymoon cruise, but unless you’re going to integrate it into a thoughtful, multi-course meal that makes sense (a hard thing to pull off) your homemade sushi is most likely going to leave your dinner guests hungry, disappointed, and eager to eat some real sushi from someone who really knows how to make it.
Ah, the dinner plates are cleared, the coffee is brewing, and at any moment the dessert’s going to hit the table. What’s that you say? You didn’t have time to make dessert, so you’re giving us sorbet? SORBET? Jesus Christ. This is a dinner party, not a cleanse. If you’re feeling lazy, that’s fine, but at the very least, have the decency to serve us ice cream. But sorbet? SORBET? That’s it…I’m leaving.