No matter how many parties you host a year, it seems like there’s always something new to learn to make the event go more smoothly and with less stress.
Susan Spungen’s new book, "What’s a Hostess to Do?" (Artisan, $17.95), is one of the most well-rounded entertaining books I’ve seen in years. From recipes to feed a crowd to tips on culling your guest list to avoid awkward encounters over appetizers, Spungen seems to have thought of everything you’d need to know to throw a fabulous fete.
Think you’re already a pro? The author offers "What’s Wrong with This Menu?" challenges. At first glance, they like excellent menus, but upon closer inspection require too many dishes in the oven at the same time or too many last-minute tasks before service.
This homemade gravlax is a sure way to impress guests with far less effort than you might think. Free free to use in the salmon cheese ball recipe from Wednesday’s food section.
Curing a side of salmon doesn’t take long; depending on how salty you want the exterior to be, it can sit packed in salt (in a sealed container in your fridge) for as few as six hours, if it has already been skinned. Take it out of the fridge at least an hour before you’re ready to serve it, so it can come up to room temperature, and brush off all the excess salt. Then slice it as thin as you can and use it in an hors d’oeuvre, such as inside blini with crème fraîche or sour cream, or just let your guests pile it onto buttered bread.
UPDATE: I made this recipe over the Christmas break and let the salt and sugar sit too long on the fish. I was using a smaller piece of fish and let it cure for two days and it had turned to salmon jerky, which my Canadian husband grew up eating and knows by the name Indian Candy. When I make it again, I’ll pull it out of the fridge after as little time as possible.
1 cup coarse salt
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. coarsely cracked peppercorns
2 Tbsp. cracked coriander seeds
1 (2-lb.) piece skinless salmon
1 bunch fresh dill, roughly chopped
For garnish: crème fraîche, black bread, capers, red onions and/or lemon slices
Mix salt, sugar, peppercorns and coriander seeds in a small bowl.
If the salmon is not already de-boned, use a pair of needle-nose pliers to remove the small bones from the salmon. (The small pin bones will look like a row of white dots running along the fatter side of the fillet, not the side with the belly flap, near the center line. Run your fingertip along the flesh against the direction of the bones so you can feel where they are and pull them out, firmly gripping them with the needle-nose pliers.)
Line a glass or ceramic baking dish with plastic wrap, leaving plenty of overhang, and sprinkle about half of the salt mixture in the dish. Lay the salmon fillet on top, and cover with the remaining salt mixture.
Place dill on top of the fish. Wrap tightly in the plastic wrap, and rewrap with another piece of plastic wrap.
Place in the refrigerator, and put something heavy on top to weight it, such as a small cutting board topped with some heavy cans. Cure for 2 or 3 days, turning the fish occasionally.
When ready to serve, wipe the salt mixture from the fish and discard. Slice the fish on the diagonal, across the grain, as thin as possible. Serve with crème fraîche, black bread, capers, red onions and lemon slices. Serves 10 to 12.
— From "What’s a Hostess to Do?" by Susan Spungen (Artisan, $17.95)