The perfect meal is a meal that you share with family or good friends. I have written about this so many times, the sharing of food around a table or fire, is fundamental to the human experience. Not everyone hunts or gathers food, not everyone cooks, so if there is not that sharing around the table, civilization just doesn’t work. Yes, it’s that important.
Once you have decided to cook and share with friends here are a few tips to make the meal as successful as you can.
Plan your meal, develop a menu, shop in advance and make sure you haven’t forgotten anything. Make sure you have all the dishes, flatware, and glasses that you need, as well as the pots and pans you will need.
When developing the menu have a theme. I always suggest cooking local, so for us in south Mississippi that means Cajan, Creole or just classic Southern food. Stick with that theme for all the courses, and the same applies for the wines you serve. If you are cooking Italian, be sure to serve Italian wine.
I never serve family style, putting all the food on the table and letting everyone serve themselves. My idea of an interesting meal is one that lasts a while. The whole idea is that you talk and interact with your guests, not just gobble your food and leave after a very short time. I think four courses is the minimum for my table. Always have something on the table when your guests arrive, an appetizer of some sorts, even if it is nothing more than a loaf of good French bread and butter, and of course, a bottle of wine. The second course for the Italians, the primi, would be pasta or a soup. Third course, the main course, (the secondi), is normally a protein dish, fish, meat, or poultry. Often the main course if followed by fresh, seasonal fruit, and then by a dessert. Last of all is a digestive, like grappa, or a liquor.
Do not serve the courses one after another. When a course is finished, clear that table, then sit back down and talk to your guest, never be in a rush. I plan on a minimum of three courses when I have friends over, but often have more.
I always serve wine with my meals, and more often than not, have a different bottle for each course. Please find a local liquor shop (like Masino’s in Ocean Springs) that has a sommelier to help pair the wines with the courses, it will make a big difference.
I know this seems like a lot of work, but I find it a deeply satisfying experience and I enjoy every aspect of it, from developing the menu to shopping, cooking, and serving. Please remember to serve your guests with your left hand, from their left, and wine the opposite. NEVER reach across a guest to fill a wine glass of to help yourself to food.
You do not have to have as many courses as I suggest, pair it down to what you feel comfortable with. But do pay special attention to how each course replates to the next.