How to navigate the grand final catering challenge
Grand final parties are fraught affairs and it’s not just the tribal-level cheer-squadding in front of the 85-inch Oled that lifts anxiety levels.
This year most of us won’t be lucky enough to watch the AFL grand final in person, so we’ll be at home hosting parties, the most fraught part of which is, yes, the catering.
The grand final party is a chance to show off your hosting prowess – read on for a few recipes to get the day going.Credit:Getty Images
The food you put on your coffee table on grand final day says a lot about you. It can’t be too posh. Nor can it be a Red Rooster catering pack afterthought.
It must strike the right note, not too flashy or showy, not direct from the dips and sauces aisle at Woolies either.
The same goes for booze. No matter how many refrigerators or “beer fridges” you have in your home, you must put beers and ice in an esky – It doesn’t have to be in the living room, the garage or the veranda is fine – so that every now and then, as an attentive host, you can enquire, “Anyone for another Bush Chook?” as you head to the garage.
This is proper grand final party behaviour. The esky strategy also helps special needs beer drinkers who will bring their own weirdo craft beers, drop them into the communal esky and self-medicate at their own pace throughout the afternoon, without involving the hosts in their peculiar tastes.
But what do the trained professionals do on the day? Three-time Olympic swimming medallist, former Cleo Magazine Bachelor of the Year, Celebrity Master Chef champion, sports nut and restaurant owner Eamon Sullivan is going full American Barbecue.
“It’s all meat and bread at our place … not a lot of salad,” Sullivan said.
“I’ll be doing a full brisket on the barbecue, lamb ribs and a pulled beef roll.”
Sullivan will cook his brisket the Texas way for 12-16 hours on his Kamado Joe barbecue. He said the most important aspect of hosting a grand final party was to cook food that was easily prepared ahead of time.
“The biggest thing is being organised. Prepare food that is heat-and-serve on the day. Pre-cooking makes sure all the hard work is done before guests arrive. If you’re running around on the day you don’t enjoy it and your guests don’t get to see you either.”
Sullivan has a secret food weapon on grand final day: Arnott’s Chicken Crimpy Shapes.
“It’s a childhood favourite, a chicken salt-flavoured snack, which I bring out every year.”
As for the booze at Chez Sullivan? “Just beers mate … and gin and tonics later in the day.”
The swimming star’s final advice? If you’re the host, don’t be the drunkest in the room. And get your mates to do the dishes for you.
Beer is the drink de jour for grand finals knees-ups, but there’s nothing wrong with good wines. If there’s ever a time to bring out the Art Series Chardonnay, this is it.
When it comes to food, we like to put the horse before the cart, just as it should be: simple dishes, massive flavours, hand-portable, easy to prep and cook and sprinkled with footy match nostalgia.
Which means sausage rolls, party pies, chicken wings, oven fries and cheeseburger sliders.
Add to those classics, lighter dishes like a couple of well-made dips with crudites and corn chips to eat them.
I’ve had great success in the past with tray-bake garlic prawns and slices of baguette to mop up the white wine-infused garlic butter afterwards.
Depending on the size of your party and your oven, you can bake a couple of kilograms of these little beauties at a time. The bigger, the better, so order U8* sized prawns, if available.
There are a few hard-and-fast rules about perfecting the barbecue offering on grand final day.Credit:istock
The barbecue option
The barbecue makes life easy. There’s just one piece of cooking equipment, it’s served buffet-style and there’s very little clean-up.
Steaks, sausages and lamb chops are the go. For white meat eaters, chicken thighs, skin-on, bone-in are fabulous on the barbecue.
Remember, every protein takes a different time to cook, so have on hand four or five small Pyrex or ceramic baking dishes as the serving pans for each meat. And remember, undercook everything, as meat will continue cooking on residual heat.
First the chicken. Bring the thighs to room temperature. Properly salt all sides, grill over the flat-top/plancha side of the barbecue until the skin is crisp and a deep golden brown. Flip and cook the other side. Arrange in a serving platter under alfoil and place in an 80-degree oven to finish. Allow 10-15 minutes in the oven to ensure it is cooked all the way to the bone.
For sausages, first, heavily char thick, 1-2 centimetre slices of onion over high heat. When they are properly charred on the barbecue grill, place in the bottom of your baking/serving pan.
When the sausages are cooked, arrange on top of the hot onions and seal with alfoil. The onion will soften and add smoky, Saturday-morning-at-Bunnings flavours to the sausages. Place in the oven.
For the lamb, grill lots of Frenched chops over high heat, then arrange on a thick bed of fresh rosemary stalks with the cooking juices in a baking/serving pan. Seal with alfoil. Place in the oven.
The best steaks for this job are rump. Trim a couple of thick cut slices of rump of all fat, then grill until rare. (If you’re using a probe, pull the meat at 48 degrees. It will keep cooking up to temp).
Rest in a baking/serving pan under alfoil with melted butter, finely minced garlic, salt and lots of thyme leaves.
Do not put in the oven. Let the steaks rest on the bench. Take directly to the table with the other meats, buttered brioche buns – for those who want to turn their steak into a steak sandwich – salads, relishes and sauces. Cut steaks into smaller, bun-sized serves just before bringing to the table.
Chicken wings: an easy favourite able to be delivered to guests en masse.Credit:iStock
The chicken wing party
Wings are the thing. Make a dredge of half-and-half plain flour to rice flour, heavily seasoned with salt and smoked paprika powder. The rice flour ensures a crisp, crunchy coating. Garlic powder is also a good addition.
Oven-roasted chicken wings benefit from being prepared ahead of time and rested in the fridge, so you can flour them in the morning and leave in the fridge for the dredge to get sticky and the salt to do its work seasoning the flesh.
Take from the fridge an hour before baking and arrange on a rimless baking sheet, lined with baking paper or a Silpat sheet and bake at 200C until browned and crispy. Turn the wings half way through cooking. You’ll never need a deep fryer again.
Toss with a dressing of 60 per cent Franks Hot Sauce (or your favourite wing dressing) and 40 per cent butter, warmed in a small saucepan. Serve with celery batons and, for true wing believers, a blue cheese dressing of crumbled blue cheese and mayonnaise.
You can bang these out in big numbers, bringing fresh platters to the table at every quarter break in the game.
Good wings are hard to buy at retail. The best we have found are at the Bunbury Farmers Market, where they do all the hard work, separating the flats from the drumettes and not a wing tip in sight. However, a good butcher should be able to get big (jumbo size) wings if you order ahead.
Sausage roll sizzle
The secret to a good sausage roll is a big herb game. It’s almost impossible to over-flavour a sausage roll. In fact, you want flavours that lurch around your palate like a drunken uncle at a wedding.
Ground beef is a great vector for flavour. Ask your butcher to grind a couple of kilograms of beef – a mix of chuck and short rib is best – and ask them not to trim the fat.
The humble sausage roll is an easy grand final snack to whip up at home. Serve with tomato sauce only.Credit:Rachel Murdolo
There’s nothing worse than a dry sausage roll, so fat content is critical. Mix the meat with fresh-chopped sage, thyme and parsley (you’ll need more than you think), one egg per 500 grams of meat, lemon zest, a couple of tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce and tomato ketchup, 200 grams of panko breadcrumbs (or you can make your own from stale sourdough soaked in milk and squeezed dry), paprika powder, 6 cloves of finely minced garlic, one large onion minced in the food processor or grated on a box grater, and freshly ground black pepper, or if you can get green peppercorns in brine, a tin of them is even better.
Use your hands to bring the mix together but don’t over-knead. Too much handling will make the finished product tough and dense.
Form long sausage shapes with the mince and roll in a good store-bought flaky pastry. Seal the edges with egg wash.
In Perth, the best pastry is made by Empire Pastry, but supermarket brands like Pampas Butter Puff are fine. There is only one condiment for a sausage roll: tomato sauce. Have heaps on hand.
The big braise
The Grand Final Party is also the perfect event for a cook-ahead braise. Coq au vin and boeuf bourguignon are two French classics, which make you look very clever, are easy to cook and lend themselves to a gentle re-heat on the day.
Braised beef? Why not cook ahead?Credit:William Meppem
They improve with a day in the fridge. They can be served in big bowls with buttered noodles, steamed rice or instant polenta.
NOTE: for boeuf bourguignon, add the mushrooms on the day: give them a quick, dry pan sear for colour and deeper flavour and add them for the re-heat.
The curve ball
Order a bunch of Cantonese roast ducks from the Good Fortune Roast Duck House in Northbridge and ask for extra, extra sauce.
If you can’t be bothered making your own Chinese pancakes, put warmed tortillas on the table with a pot of hoi sin sauce and batons of cucumber and spring onion. Your guests will happily wrap and crunch the afternoon away.
It might not be the usual grand final meal, but why not try roast duck?Credit:Alamy
There are many Cantonese-style roast restaurants in Perth, so it doesn’t absolutely have to be the Good Fortune Duck House – we reckon they’re just the best in town.
If you want to make your own pancakes, here’s my recipe for the Vietnamese Banh Xeo pancakes, which I love with roast duck: 300 grams of fine rice flour, mixed with two heaped teaspoons of turmeric powder, 300 millilitres of coconut milk and about 300 millilitres of water. Mix well. It should be the consistency of pouring cream. Allow the mix to settle for a couple of hours, then make your small, thin pancakes.
For the more authentic Peking Duck pancakes, mix 1 cup of plain flour with 4 tablespoons of cornflour, ½ cup of water, ½ cup of milk, 4 eggs and two tablespoons of melted butter.
Mix well until glossy and smooth and let stand for 15-30 minutes to relax the gluten. Double or triple the recipe for a bigger group.
If you don’t want to do any of this, get your mates to a good pub with a big screen or two and a reputation for good food. That way you can eat dishes you might not be able to cook well at home for a crowd like fries, party pies, rotisserie chicken, chicken parmi and big steaks.
Sometimes, like the Cosmic Psychos sang, it’s just a nice day to go to the pub.Credit:Tash Sorensen
The biggest grand final challenge of all
There’s always one; the footy party newbie who talks through the game and only shuts up during the ad breaks, which he or she watches intently.
The only comments required during the game are “That’s holding the ball!” or the more general, “You’ve. Got. To. Be. Kidding!”
It is not the time to be discussing real estate prices, the profoundly eschatological questions of life and death or your child’s performance in the end-of-year school theatrical.
The best antidote is to give the “talker” a job. Flatter them into “keeping an eye the barbecue.” Everyone wins. They get a job. You get peace.
*U8. Prawns are universally measured in units, based on the pound (450g). U8s are massive because there are weighed at 8 prawns per pound or about 57g per prawn. U10s are slightly smaller (10 per pound). U12s are smaller again and considered the standard size. Buy them green and in an IQF (Individually Quick Frozen) format, which ensures they will be in the best nick. Thaw. Take off the head and carapace, clean out the poo shoot but leave the tail on for presentation purposes.
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