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Open House for a Crowd

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The big buffet: It's as easy as two do-ahead mains and a grab bag of sides

The shopping list already reflects the scaled-up amounts.

If you’re cooking for a crowd, I have three words of advice: open house buffet. Give guests a window of time to drop by, start with a festive cocktail, and fill your biggest table with scrumptious dishes that are mostly make-ahead. The result is an elegant yet low-key party that takes the stress out of entertaining.

As a party pro, I’ve developed a foolproof strategy for building a crowd-friendly buffet: Start with a couple of main dishes that taste great at room temperature, like a whole glazed ham and a side of salmon, supplement them with simple sides, and then fill out the table with store-bought extras like spiced or candied mixed nuts, crudité and dip, biscuits a cheese platter garnished with fresh and dried fruit. For dessert, ask guests to bring cookies or other bite-size sweets.

Menu Timeline

One day ahead:

  • Make the chutney, buttermilk dip, and horseradish cream
  • Position the buffet table and set with linens, serving platters, utensils, and decorations.

Five hours ahead:

  • Make and bake the biscuits.

Four hours ahead:

  • Bake the ham.
  • Mix the orange-maple mustard (see note in ham recipe).

Three hours ahead:

  • Make the butternilk marinade and prep the ingredients for the cucumber salad; refrigerate.
  • Cook the broccoli and prep the gremolata ingredients.

90 minutes ahead:

  • Roast the potatoes.
  • Clean and prep the vegetables for the crudité and arrange them on their serving platter.

One hour ahead:

  • Marinate the salmon.
  • Remove the cheeses from the refrigerator and arrange them on their serving platter.

30 minutes ahead:

  • Roast the salmon.
  • Put all condiments and mixed nuts in their serving bowls.

Just before serving:

  • Salt and dress the cucumber salad.
  • Mix the gremolata with the broccoli.
  • Slice the ham.
  • Platter the salmon.

Shopping List

Fresh Produce

  • 8 lb. small fingerling potatoes
  • about 6 lb. fresh, assorted vegetables for crudités (carrots, celery, pickling cucumbers, radishes, or whatever’s in season)
  • 6 lb. fresh broccoli
  • 3 large English cucumbers
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 1 large red onion
  • 3 large bunches fresh chives
  • 1 bunch fresh dill
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 bunch fresh basil
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro
  • 6 medium scallions
  • 1 bulb garlic
  • 1 Tbs. minced garlic
  • 1 4-inch piece fresh ginger
  • 1 fresh pineapple
  • 3 medium lemons
  • 8 medium limes
  • Grapes and fresh figs for the cheese board (optional)

Meat, Fish, Eggs & Dairy

  • 1 smoked half-ham, preferably a bone-in butt half (8 to 9 lb.)
  • 2 sides of salmon (3 lb. each)
  • 1 quart buttermilk
  • 2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt
  • 4 cups sour cream
  • 5 oz. Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 8 oz. (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • Assorted cheeses (such as Camembert, Roquefort, fresh chevre, Parmigiano-Reggiano) for cheese board (optional)

Other Groceries

  • 6 cups pear brandy (like Poire Williams)
  • 3 cups triple sec (like Cointreau)
  • 1-1/4 cup whole-grain mustard
  • 1 cup Kalamata olives
  • 3⁄4 cup high-quality orange marmalade
  • 1⁄2 cup bourbon or dark rum
  • 1/2 cup prepared horseradish
  • 1/4 cup white truffle oil (optional)
  • Dried apricots and/or fig-almond cake for the cheese board (optional)

Pantry Staples

  • 16 oz. (3-1/2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour; more as needed
  • 1-1⁄4 cups extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1⁄4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup white vinegar
  • 4-1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 Tbs. granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbs. honey
  • 1 Tbs. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes; more to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. Tabasco; more to taste
  • 1⁄2 tsp. ground cloves
  • Kosher salt
  • Fine sea salt
  • Black peppercorns

The Menu


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