Crowd pleasers

A stylish and simple menu that can be easily scaled up for a rehearsal dinner or post-wedding party

  Beetroot carpaccio with walnuts and Roquefort. Photograph: Alan Betson

Beetroot carpaccio with walnuts and Roquefort. Photograph: Alan Betson


Although there are a few curmudgeons given to moaning about weddings –the tears, the slightly dodgy inter-generational dancing and the chance of a great (and cheesy) speech, happily, most people love them, and for precisely the same reasons. Anything goes nowadays in terms of style, degree of informality and the menu.

We’re also seeing an increasing amount of activity when it comes to the shoulders of the big day. Informal BBQ’s the day after the night before and pre-wedding dinners, like they do in the USA, also known as “rehearsal dinners” are becoming more common. Now I am not sure what they actually “rehearse’ at these things - after all, your script during the ceremony isn’t that long and if your partner has to endlessly rehearse the words, “I do”, then one must question their intended’s dedication to the proceedings.

So if you do find yourself suggesting some sort of get together before or after, then both these dishes are handy in that they can easily be bumped up numbers wise without too much trauma. After all, it can still seem a big task to come up with a menu that works for the wide range of family and friends typically seen at an Irish wedding, from the neighbour who used to babysit you as a kid to your 85-year-old great auntie Maureen whom you haven’t clapped eyes on since your 21st. Inevitably you will be fending off a few guests just dying to tell you what they think of your new husband/wife/mother-in-law’s risqué outfit. So you need to be concentrating on survival rather than cooking times.

So, this menu has to be the ultimate culinary multi-tasker: it has to be tasty yet not too ‘experimental’, has to say all the right things about your “choices” in life and needs to be flexible: it can be easily scaled up or down should the numbers change at the last minute.

The beetroot salad chosen for this issue is really lovely, full of texture and winning flavours that combine beautifully. With the rich brilliance of the beetroot, it also looks stunning. The wafer-thin disks are the result of an encounter with a mandolin – no, not the instrument but a steel slicing tool not unlike a grater. Who knows, it might even inspire someone to buy you one as a wedding present?

As for the main course, well, isn’t chicken the ultimate crowd-pleaser? And contrary to wedding myth, it doesn’t have to be bland, either. The recipe featured here is simplicity itself. Like the starter, this roast chicken dish is more assembly than alchemy, and the classic combination of citrus (yes, that’s marmalade in there) and warm, aniseedy fennel is very good indeed. The mustard might seem like it won’t work but in fact it gives it additional depth and warmth.

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