Bring It! – Potluck Dishes That Don’t Need Reheating
Bringing food to a potluck can take us all out of our comfort zone. We’re left without our own oven, our favorite knife, or our counter space. Timing a dish perfectly in someone else’s kitchen can feel like a high wire act.
So how do you make it work? The key is in eliminating the element of surprise. Start with a dish that doesn’t need to be cooked on arrival. In my book Bring It: Tried and True Recipes for Potlucks and Casual Entertaining I tried to find ways to keep it simple and eliminate dishes that needed to be served piping hot. Now I almost never bring a dish that needs any additional help on arrival – it’s just not worth it. With room temperature dishes you can walk into a party with as much ease as the person who brought a bottle of wine.
But there are few things to keep in mind because it is a delicate balance to make sure a dish can sit at room temperature. It starts with flavors. Because you won’t have heat as an added element to enhance the dish, you have to make sure it has bold flavors to start. Everything from pastas to proteins can be served at room temperature, but make sure you’ve amped everything up. Use mustard instead of a plain yogurt sauce. Add a kick of heat or powerful ingredients like ginger and soy sauce. And always ensure you have enough salt – nothing kills a dish quite like that lack of enhancement. With a bold set of flavors on your side people won’t pay attention to whether a dish is hot or cold.
Once the flavors are chosen, think through the transportation. Just because a dish doesn’t need to be put back on the heat doesn’t mean it can get from point A to B without a little bit of attention to detail. The ultimate no-cook dish is a salad, but even a salad can start to look a little sad if it has sat too long in its dressing. When taking items like salads, or other dishes with an added sauce, try to keep them separated until you arrive. It will save the dish from wilting and it will eliminate the pool of sauce that clings to the bottom once it has been out too long. A quick toss on arrival will keep everything looking fresh and as though it was made moments before. Similarly, if you bring a dish that doesn’t have a sauce but can still be fluffed up, like a rice or grain dish, make sure to give it a stir on arrival. Otherwise, for any other kind of dish, just keep your dish covered until you are ready to serve so it stays looking as ready-made as possible.
Make sure also to travel with whatever extra tools you need. You might show up and the host may not have the right knife to cut your quiche or the right spoons to serve your salad. Don’t take for granted that they will have what you are looking for. Since you won’t be asking the host for any oven space or fridge space you’ll make yourself extra easy by being totally self-contained on arrival.
Lastly, you need to focus on presentation – and in many ways it is easier than a piping hot dish. Often keeping a bit of chopped herbs or parsley in a separate resealable bag that can be sprinkled over the top right before serving can make a world of difference. Make sure to also think about color – a grain dish might taste great, but a whole lot of brown doesn’t make your dish the go-to item. Without the wafting smells coming from the oven you’ll need to have guests eat with their eyes before digging in. So make sure you’ve livened up whatever you’re making with enough color and texture before bringing it out.
As long as you’ve got the flavor, transportation plan and presentation down, a room temperature dish can be the solution to any gathering. Save yourself the headache of reheating and start with a plan to keep it as easy as possible.