With the weather warming up, there are few things better than a dinner party and few things worse than cooking for one. Sweating over a red-hot BBQ as your guests get steadily drunker and hungrier makes for a truly unpleasant hosting experience.
Make-ahead dishes are the saviour of any host or hostess, and as I recently learned from this piece in Bon Appétit, cold meat is the ultimate focal point of a made-ahead feast.
Serving everything straight from the fridge (or warmed to room temperature) makes for a cool kitchen and a laid-back prep schedule, so you can spend more time actually enjoying your guests' company. It's a stunningly simple solution to a very real pain in the arse.
The Bon Appétit piece emphasises the convenience factor, but skips over a massive selling point: cold meat is always fully rested. Spending the night in the fridge gives flavours ample time to meld and keeps the juices where they belong, so the meat straight-up tastes better. Sous-vide meats work especially well here: not only are they already wrapped and ready to refrigerate, but they're perfectly cooked edge-to-edge, needing just a quick sear or torch before serving.
Anything you'd scarf down in front of an open fridge the next day is a prime candidate, but here are some suggestions to get you started:
Marinated steak fajitas: Pound a few chuck steaks 1.2cm thick and toss with thick-sliced capsicums and onions. Marinate the whole mess in beer, lime juice, soy sauce, and plenty of garlic and cumin, then grill or pan-fry to desired doneness.
Roast pork shoulder: Stab the roast in several places, stuff in garlic cloves, rub all over with salt and brown sugar and cure overnight. Tie it up nice and tight and roast or sous-vide until basically falling apart.
Ribs: Pork, beef, or lamb, everyone loves a platter of ribs, which are both tastier and easier to eat at room temperature.
Any variation on "chicken under a brick:" Cold or lukewarm chicken skin can be gross, but pressing a spatch-cocked bird into a hot pan crisps up every square centimetre so it's delicious at any temperature.
Fried chicken: Cold fried chicken rules — and you don't even have to make it yourself. If you have a great local spot, order takeout for everyone and focus on the sides.
Each of these need nothing more than a marinated vegetable side or two and an appropriate carb to round them out. Serve slices of slow-roasted pork shoulder with bread or rolls, aggressively seasoned red cabbage slaw, and a tangle of arugula in vinaigrette for delicious DIY sandwiches.
If your menu still feels a little spare, a marinated tomato salad is always a safe bet: whisk any vinegar with a splash of neutral oil, season to taste with salt, pepper, and sugar or honey, then throw in shaved sweet onions and wedges of ripe tomatoes.
Serve everything with the sauces of your choosing — never neglect the sauce — and plenty of chilled beverages for a low-effort spread worthy of the fanciest soiree.