Help! What’s the Best “Impress the Hell Out of Everyone” Dinner Party Recipe?

published Jan 13, 2020
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Hi, Kitchn Team!

I’m hosting a small-ish dinner party (six people total) next week, and I want to impress the hell out of everyone. There are no dietary restrictions. What’s the best never-forget, award-winning, please-give-me-the-recipe recipe that I can make? What about sides and dessert? 


Faith: For a main dish? Gosh that’s hard. I do think the Ottolenghi chicken dish is wonderful. (From our showstopper chicken showdown.)

Arie: Oh yes, of course!

Faith: I think that people are really impressed by a well-cooked steak, or scallops with risotto or pasta. But for something more hands-off, Ina’s eggplant Parm is a great option. And if you want to be a little more casual, may I recommend our own fried chicken recipe which is AMAZING and very good at room temperature or cooked an hour ahead. Serve with Champagne, a vinegary potato salad, and a panna cotta or another showstopper dessert and I think it’s the kind of comfort food people secretly want at a dinner party.

Arie: I think my two show-stoppers would be a mushroom lasagna (Smitten Kitchen or Ottolenghi) and then Nik Sharma’s curry leaf popcorn chicken. The lasagna is a great make-ahead option. The chicken is a pain to make but it’s SO GOOD and impressive as hell.

Lauren Kodiak: I have thoughts on dessert! I recently made a flourless chocolate cake from Aran Goyoaga’s new book, Cannelle et Vanille, and it was a HUGE hit. It’s made with olive oil instead of butter, and calls for lemon and orange zest and juice. It’s decadent but light, and bitter yet sweet? I think something in this realm if you can’t get your hands on this cookbook would be a hit!

Arie: I love that Lauren! The flourless chocolate cake from the River Café cookbook is also a favorite.

Faith: Oh! I forgot one — our ultimate fast and fancy prosciutto ravioli with figs. Soooo fancy and easy, although I wonder how easy it would be to do at last minute (I think it needs to be prepped fresh).

Lauren Masur: Wow I am so low-brow, but for NYE I hollowed out a loaf of sourdough, toasted it, and filled with with TJ’s spinach dip (lol). Effort level aside, IT WAS A SHOWSTOPPER.

Grace: This sounds boring but I think a simple, well-seasoned salad with a homemade dressing is impressive because it might look unassuming, but then it has a surprising amount of flavor.

Faith: I agree with Grace, but I also think that the “impressive” thing that people do respond to is to portion out salads and have them on table ahead, with finished garnishes in pretty bowls at each place + cloth napkins + water/wine etc. — turn lights down, light candles, set the mood. Garnish salads with a curl of Parm and fresh pepper, or something else, depending on recipe — just all looks so polished and nice that way.

Grace: Yeah! For a main, stuffed shells are easy and make-ahead-friendly. If you finish them off with lots of fresh herbs and grated Parm and red pepper flakes or lemon zest they can be fancied-up, too.

Lauren Masur: Lisa, when are you going to say cheese?

Lisa: CHEESE BOARD ALWAYS. I just grab things from the fridge/pantry and pile it all up on a board. Cheese, pep, olives, nuts, dried fruit, crackers. I just did it on NYE and people were mega impressed. Even though they’ve seen me do it a million times.

Chris: If I’m trying to impress meat-eaters I’ll often go with either a roast chicken (I default to the very simple instructions from Michael Ruhlman’s “How to Roast Everything” which is basically just to rain salt on it and put it in the oven at like 400 for an hour) or maybe a pot roast. But honestly one of the smartest things I’ve learned (from my very smart wife) is to just ask questions — If we’re having people over that we don’t know very well, she often asks them a lot of questions about the food they like, the restaurants they like, etc. She actually does this anyway, but then when we’re coming up with a dinner party plan, we end up talking a lot about the kinds of foods we think people will like and then crafting a menu that feels more personal — even if you can say “Hey, I made these sweet potato fries because I know how much you loved the ones we had at that bar the last time we hung out” it tends to be more affecting than the biggest show-stopping dish.

Christine: So many great ideas! Also, having a batch cocktail ready to go is always impressive. As well as if you take the time to get a dessert wine.

Patty: I love serving homemade pudding with fresh whipped cream for dessert. It’s totally make-ahead friendly, and since it’s so uncommon these days people are impressed. Also any big roast — pork or beef loin. They are more forgiving to cook than individual steaks or chops.

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