When having friends over for a dinner party, a barbecue, or even just drinks I like to spend an extra hour or two cooking up something fun and special. I enjoy creating a few dishes that are unique and exciting to get people talking. Even though these dishes tend to be modernist and designed to impress, most of them don't take any longer to create than traditional party foods. The only thing more impressive than a fancy dish is a fancy dish that only took 20 minutes to make!
Using modernist cooking to make party foods doesn't have to be difficult. You can turn a "normal" entree into a spectacular one just through structure and plating. Even using smaller, individual portions and pre-plating the dish makes typical food look fancier.
You can go a step further and change the texture of one of the components in the dish; for example, turn the sauce into a foam or an air, use spherified caviar or carbonated fruit. Create new flavors in normal ingredients by using a whipping siphon to infuse oils and alcohols, or perhaps through pickling or curing.
If you are interested in trying your hand at making unique party foods, here are my suggestions for the minimal pieces of modernist equipment you'll need to get started on this new adventure.
These recipes and others are available in our book Modernist Cooking Made Easy: Party Foods: Create Remarkable Cocktails, Hors d'Oeuvres and Small Plates That Will Amaze Your Friends which you can get on Amazon.com.
This soup is easy to put together, highlights the flavors of
strawberries, and is light and refreshing. Xanthan gum helps hold it together and traps the bubbles created from pureeing it, keeping it a little frothy.
This recipe turns a popular spinach-garlic dip into a foam for dipping. It can be served with roasted pita squares or even just vegetables and chips. This dip also works great as a sauce to perk up the flavors of steak or chicken.
In this recipe the pressure cooking of the plantains caramelizes them, ratcheting up the sweetness and adding more depth of flavor. Then simply puree them with dark rum and place them on crostini for a great snack!
Flank steak is full of beefy flavor and has a great bite to it. Serving it with chimichurri, a spicy garlic and parsley based sauce, is very popular in Argentina and other South American countries. This recipe makes an excellent choice for a party!
This fancy creme brulee recipe is easy to make with a sous vide machine and the white chocolate turns it into a more decadent dessert. I serve it topped with raspberries, a raspberry syrup or other berries in season.
Aioli is simply a mayonnaise made with garlic and olive oil. This recipe uses an immersion blender to make the process super-easy and results in a light dip for vegetables or a spread on breads and toast. It's a popular addition to any party fare!
Cranberries are a great treat any time of the year. This recipe combines the tang from the cranberries with the smokiness from the ancho pepper. For a burst of flavor place on a crispy crostini and topped with with spices and mint. A great party treat!
Like this chocolate whipped cream with berries dessert, sometimes the most impressive dishes to my guests are the easiest ones to make. In addition this combination is unforgettable when served warm on cake, brownies or ice cream!
This recipe uses the pressure cooker to turn an inexpensive chuck roast into a moist,flavor-packed beef entree and the whipping siphon to prepare a spicy tangerine froth topping. It's a fun and simple meal that will impress your family and dinner guests alike.
For a modern twist on this clam chowder with smoked clams recipe I gel the chowder, cube it, and serve it on a crunchy sourdough crouton with a smoked clam on top. A tasty and talked about party treat!
Using sous vide to cook your chicken wings helps eliminate most of the guess work, always resulting in perfectly cooked chicken. This is very important because no one wants to serve undercooked chicken at a party. These wings are delicious when served with bacon-bourbon BBQ jam, or honey-chipotle BBQ sauce, or both!
Roasting parsnips gives it an almost nutty taste, which holds up well to a topping of chipotle-carrot froth. The modernist ingredient of xanthan gum is used in the froth to help it retain the bubbles generated in the whipping siphon. This is a fun dish to serve as an appetizer or starter plate.
This recipe combines crispy pulled pork and savory deviled egg with a burst of spicy chipotle flavor into one of the more unique combinations. The crispy pulled pork can be used as a garnish for many dishes, and a topper for fish or salads.
This crostini recipe moves the traditional deli food of lox and cream cheese on a bagel into fancy modernist bites. The cream cheese is turned into gelled noodles that are served on toasted bagel rounds with pickled red onion. An easy to pick up and deliciously flavorful party food!
This recipe combines the diverse flavors of poblano pepper, corn and egg into a great looking, go back for more kind of party dish. The poblano peppers are turned into agar pearls to add some interesting texture and mouthfeel to the deviled eggs. The corn contributes crunchy bursts of sweetness.
For a PB and J dessert worthy of a party, I make a home-made cashew butter to replace the peanut butter and then turn some fresh raspberries into a flavorful fluid gel for the jelly. I serve it with a sliver of dark chocolate for richness and a lemon twist to add brightness. When served open face it better highlights the flavors.
Roasted red peppers are a classic Italian offering and this recipe uses the whipping siphon to aerate them into a light, smooth soup. The amount of agar can be adjusted to
easily control the thickness of the soup. In addition to serving it as a soup, this foam can be used in many
different ways to turn traditional dishes into modern masterpieces.
I really like how the halibut goes with the sweet and tart citrus pudding. This is a simple dish but one that is full of subtle flavors. The orange and lemon help complement the halibut and the basil adds just a hint of spice to it.
Looking to take your guests by surprise visually but still deliver that familiar and well-loved taste of peas and carrots? This recipe tops a roasted carrot plank with pea pudding and some pancetta for added flavor and texture. Zip it up with a modernist twist!
I really enjoy how the sweetness of caramel complements pork. This recipe uses a buttery rich tasting rosemary caramel to act as a sauce for a sous vided pork loin roast. Your guests will definitely want seconds!
For these fun and flavorful party desserts I make a gelled ravioli from bananas and cream and fill them with Nutella. Just top them off with some shaved chocolate and mint leaves or serve them with ice cream - either way it is a crowd pleaser!
For this dessert I've taken the components from my mom's sweet potato casserole and broken them down into a modernist dessert. I take crispy sweet potato chips and top them with a fresh orange and brown sugar marshmallow. Then I finish it with a drizzle of molasses for extra flavor.
This recipe takes classic homemade marshmallows and covers them in yummy chocolate. Mint and chocolate is a classic pairing and the soft marshmallows are a great way to hold them all together! A definite party favorite!
This is a tastier take on the commonly served Jell-O shot
especially if you top them with some candied lime peel
and a little sprig of mint. You can even substitute any of your favorite drinks into this recipe - let your imagination run wild!
When I'm having wings I almost always reach for the honey-chipotle BBQ sauce. It's a delicate balance between the heat from the chipotles and the sweetness from the honey. Just be sure to make plenty, your guests will love it!
Bacon and bourbon are two of my favorite foods and this recipe combines them in a smokey, spicy BBQ sauce that is great on wings, pulled pork, brisket, or about anything
else you can think of. The sauce itself is really tasty but the bacon chunks add great bursts of flavor.
Tender crispy chicken wings are always a big hit at any party! Using sous vide to prepare them helps eliminate most of the guess work which always results in crowd pleasing chicken. Since the frying process is now just used to crisp the skin, it can be done at a hotter temperature, resulting in an even crispier yet tender wing.
This recipe makes a clean and fresh tasting pea pesto dip that works great with just about everything, especially grilled sourdough bread, carrot and celery sticks, as well as roasted vegetable chips. This party favorite is quick and easy to put together and can be made with defrosted frozen peas - however, if you have access to fresh spring peas it'll be even better!
Using a marshmallow base turns a rich, decadent chocolate covered cherry into a lighter equally satisfying treat. I add cocoa powder to the marshmallow mixture, resulting in a light chocolate flavor and cherry juice is turned into a marshmallow coating. These addictive snacks have great flavor and are a visually interesting dish that will get your guests talking!
This recipe makes a fun party dish that combines turkey with a foamed gravy and a cranberry air for a great small plate treat. The cranberry air will last for 5 to 10 minutes after plating, so the quicker you serve this dish the better.
This recipe tops sous vided chicken with a modernist froth to make a favorite dish that even pickier eaters tend to gobble up! By using xanthan gum in the teriyaki sauce you can turn it into a flavorful froth in a whipping siphon. Even a "basic" food can be the talk of the party!
I really enjoy how the sweetness of caramel complements pork. This recipe uses a rosemary infused caramel to act as a sauce for the sous vided pork. Top with apple cubes and you have an upscale looking and tasting dinner to serve your guests!
Chicken piccata is a light Italian dish that uses salty capers and acidic lemon to complement breaded and fried chicken. In this recipe I use sous vide to ensure the chicken is super moist and fully cooked. For a fun modernist take, I turn the lemon caper juice into a delicate air with an immersion blender.
The combination of apples and pork are a classic pairing in Irish cooking. For this recipe, I roast apples and use the modernist ingredient of agar to turn them into a fun pudding topper for pork. By sous vide cooking the pork, you can consistently serve an extra moist and tender meat entree.
For this recipe I make a foam instead of using the normally thin liquid associated with a dish of mussels. After removing the mussels from their shells, I serve them individually with the curry foam on top. This exceptional mussel bite turns a messy meal into an elegant and easy to eat party food.
The star of most of my parties is meat and this blackberry-peach wrapped sous vided pork offering is no exception! It makes a fun presentation besides the additional sweetness and flavor from roasting the fruit complements the pork perfectly.
This brussels sprouts recipe incorporates the tang from blue cheese and the smoke from bacon to prepare a party favorite. By deep frying the brussels sprouts first, you can easily make this dish even fancier!
This crostini recipe infuses the heat, smokiness and flavor of dried chiles into canola oil, which is then thickened into a foam. It is also a good topping for grilled meats or as a spicy spread for fresh bread. The process of infusing oil with flavors before thickening it leads to countless variations you can adapt to any dish.
This recipe is a great crostini topping for any party, especially if some attendees might be less adventurous eaters! It resembles a more traditional dish but it have a subtle modernist touch. Garnishing the white bean puree with lemon zest pulls in even more highlights to the food.
This recipe uses the extra flavor of garlic to turn a simple crostini base into a tasty explosion by itself.
It's a great way to add depth of flavor to dishes without having to add the garlic to the topping. Even though a baguette or ciabatta is the traditional bread used, let your imagine run wild to create a variety of Italian party favorite appetizers!
Crostini are one of my most popular finger food Italian appetizers for parties. Basically they consist of small toasted bread slices with toppings on them. Even though a baguette or ciabatta is the traditional bread used, let your imagine run wild to create new and interesting tastes.
These tangy reddish-purple deviled eggs are made with pickled beet brine. This recipe aims for some color without an overpowering flavor so the eggs are only soaked for 12 to 18 hours. Topped with a dab of goat cheese, a pecan and a slice of pickled beet - they are always a crowd pleaser!
This recipe makes fresh cantaloupe and honeydew melons into a simple flavorful soup, then turns it into little spheres that my guests can pop into their mouths. By using a modernist spherification technique and the modernist ingredients of calcium lactate and sodium alginate, you too can make a fun take on this favorite summer food!
Banana chips are easy to make and taste so much better than the store brands. This recipe uses a standard dehydrator to make these great garnishes for desserts or as a base for crostini-like dishes. The cinnamon gives these banana chips some additional heat and flavor - Yum!
This recipe infuses milk with the great flavor of maple and pecan then turns it into a tender panna cotta dessert. The common modernist gelling ingredients of iota carrageean and kappa carrageenan are used to make the panna cotta portion; an immersion blender and a whipping siphon are both modernist equipment used to make this delicate ending to your meal.
Limoncello is a classic Italian digestif from Southern Italy made by macerating lemon peels in alcohol for up to a month. In this recipe I use the modernist equipment power of the whipping siphon to reduce the process down to only 5 minutes. This end product is added to sugar and water; now it's ready to use.
This classic bacon cheddar broccoli soup recipe uses the modernist ingredient of sodium citrate to help it stay together without diluting the flavor of the cheese with flour and other starches. The result is a super smooth, super cheesy soup.
This shrimp and chile queso recipe adds sodium citrate to a cheddar and Gouda cheeses to give it a modernist twist treat for any party. This dish combines sweet shrimp, rich melted cheese and spicy peppers into a a decadent sauce that can be served with tortilla chips, bread chunks or on fajitas or tacos!
Honey goat cheese is already light and airy but in this recipe it gets a modernist cooking twist by using a whipping siphon to turn it into creamy clouds. I serve it on small flatbreads with port-infused figs for a fun texture and taste combination!
This basic flatbread recipe is easy to make and has great flavor. Be adventuresome when adding garnishes to the dough, or as toppings either before or after cooking! Flatbreads are always party favorites!
By using the basic modernist ingredient of xanthan gum this recipe turns tuna into an upscale party favorite for any gathering. I serve the tuna squares with a pickled pear relish and an Asian accent sauce for a pop of flavor.
Deviled eggs with bacon and chives are a common party food but this recipe takes it up a notch by using modernist cooking techniques to make it candied bacon and chive air! Your party guests will enjoy the crispy, sweet, spicy and smoky flavors of the candied bacon while the chive air adds a fresh onion flavor with a hint of sweetness. A fun treat for your family and friends.
This modernist dessert is a take off of an old fashioned sweet potato, brown sugar and marshmallow casserole. Here I take crispy sweet potato chips, top them with a fresh orange and brown sugar marshmallow and finish it with a drizzle of molasses for extra flavor. This treat is a hit at every party!
This dip recipe combines the spicy heat of habanero peppers with the sweet taste of fresh ripe peaches. The resulting tangy dip is great on vegetables or even meat. By altering the amount of peppers used, you can raise or lower the heat to suit your guests.
Tequila has a bad reputation as a party drink but you can tame it if you replace the shots with this sophisticated cocktail. The paloma is a traditional Mexican cocktail and is much more common than a margarita south of the border. It is usually made with tequila and a grapefruit soda, such as squirt, served over ice, and is both easy to make and delicious.
When watermelon is in season it's hard to resist. For some parties you need nothing more than to slice it and hand it out with paper towels for people to scarf down. However, sometimes you want something a little more refined and that's where this recipe comes in.
Sweet green grapes are another favorite snack of mine and they're a great party food because most people really like them. For this more upscale dish I turn them into a sweet, fizzy soup. The xanthan gum helps hold the particles in suspension and the carbonation effect adds a pleasant tingle and tang to it.
These cocktail cubes are a fun way to entertain your guests. They are rum infused strawberries encased in a daiquiri cube. When you bite into them the cube starts off with a sweet and tart flavor followed up by the kick of the rum-infused strawberries.
My mother-in-law always cooks great meals for us when we come to visit. She recently cooked a wonderful sweet potato soup that I thought would be great in a modernist preparation. I've roasted the sweet potatoes and added some molasses, ginger, and thyme for extra depth of flavor.
One of my favorite spring dishes is shortcakes with fresh fruits or berries. The other day I decided to take advantage of some great looking berries and made a variety of shortcakes. To make them more modern, and to work on some recipes for my upcoming book, I used some whipping siphon foams and agar agar fruit gels.
These Mexican inspired salmon bites pack a lot of flavor in a little package. The acidity from the tomatillos compliments the salmon perfectly and the crunch from the fried tortillas adds great texture.
Not all dishes that use modernist ingredients have to be super fancy in-your-face dishes that look like they came from Alinea. This red pepper pesto crustini is a great example. It is a simple, hearty snack that is great when served as an appetizer or set out as hors d'oeuvres.
One interesting use of modernist gelling is to create pliable gel sheets. These gel sheets are made by adding a combination of agar agar and gelatin to a flavored liquid and letting it set. The agar and gelatin add both elasticity for strength and a nice brittleness for flavor release. The ratio of the two ingredient will determine the final characteristic of the gel sheets.
Marshmallows are a favorite food of children everywhere. These homemade ones are so much better than store bought that there is really no comparison. Whether you want to eat these on smores, in hot cocoa or just plain they will amaze you and your friends.
My wife's relatives in Florida love their Bloody Marys and this is her modernist take on them, focusing on the celery garnish and turning it into the serving vessel a la the traditional "ants on a log" children's snack.
One of the fun things about modernist cooking is changing the textures of common dishes while keeping the flavors the same. This creates almost a confusion in the palate when it's being eaten and the brain recognizes the flavors but not the textures. This recipe creates a solid Bloody Mary gel with agar agar that has applications in various dishes.
I am crazy for the sweet-tart, floral flavor of passion fruit. Although my garden produces just about every kind of fruit, it's a few degrees too cold during the winter months in Carmel Valley to grow this divine tropical fruit. I know, because I've tried and failed on two occasions.
Another great sous vide dessert recipe from SVKitchen. This one focuses on uses your sous vide machine as a bain marie and cooking a creme brulee with it.
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