Make the Guests Cook Dinner

August 14, 2012

Guests WANT to help, especially the miniature ones!

When my guests come for dinner, they always sit across from me on a stool at the center island in The Muddy Kitchen during prep time. They sip this or that, listen to the birds chirp or the frogs sing down by the pond, watch me mill about grabbing various ingredients from the fridge or the pantry and inevitably the question is asked: “Can I help?”

The correct answer — and believe it or not, this didn’t dawn on me until recently (Earth to Jennifer! Hello?!) — is “YES! You can help!”

Make the hard stuff first (like the chopped up bits) and put everything in little bowls for your guest-chefs to assemble.

People want to help. They like helping. It gives them a raison d’être in my kitchen – some ownership on the evening. It gives them a meal to remember.

In some ways, maybe all ways, having people help out in the kitchen is harder than just doing the damn thing myself, but I’ve learned that’s not the point. The kitchen, like my garden, like my writing, like this very blog, is not an excuse to escape from the world – it’s a way to embrace it. So, now, if I can remember to be generous and not take all the chores and the credit for myself, I prep with my guests in mind. I plan the meal out so that my old (or my new) friends can get a piece of the action.

“I made this!”

The other night we had friends and friends of friends over. Luckily we still had a massive amount of Striper left from our fishing trip so I thought I’d pull out all the fish-recipe-stops and have Striper Three Ways. It was an ambitious approach, but I was not to be stopped. “I’ll have helpers!” I said to myself. ‘They’ll, y’know…help!”

Well, excusay my pauvre français, but to my surprise, my new friends of friends didn’t speak a lick of English. Hmm. This was a bit of a kink in my best-laid plan. But with much pantomiming and some ridiculously French-accenting on my part (like French people will really understand “slicing the fish” if I say it, “slice-eeng la, how you say, la feeesh?”), we prepared the meal. It’s amazing how much there is to ‘talk’ about when food is involved.

A delicious meal prepared by all crosses all boundaries.

“How you say…le melon d’eau??”

As usual, I seek out the fish king when given the bounty of the sea. These recipes are inspired by him. Along with my trusty bottle of yuzu juice, I actually travel with my favorite Nobu recipes in a little folder….just in case!

You can use any super-fresh fish in these recipes. Go wild! Mix it up!



This is one of those ‘Wow ’em, Zow ’em’ dishes. Like sizzling rice soup or cherries flambe – the sounds effects and simple-to-execute pyrotechnics make the room turn and OMGasp!


8 – 12 ounces of super-fresh fish (any firm white fish works – I’ve even used salmon)
2 tbsp finely minced garlic
Fresh ginger, minced or julienned
Scallion or chives, julienned
12 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 tbsp sesame oil
4 tbsp soy sauce
4 tbsp yuzu juice (substitute lime or lemon juice…if you…sheeshmust)
2 tbsp white or black sesame seeds

1. Cut the fish fillet into paper-thin slices. I do this like in my ceviche recipe by sticking it in the freezer for a 20 minutes beforehand. It’s essential that the fish is thin and cold for this to be a voilà dish.

2. Fan out the slices (don’t overlap)  in over 4 heatproof dinner plates or 1 heatproof platter. I have made the mistake of using a non-heatproof glass plate – let’s just say it weren’t pretty!

3. Sprinkle the minced garlic, the ginger and scallion or chives over the fish. Sprinkle on the soy sauce, the yuzu juice and finish with the sesame seeds.

Don’t ask me about the time the dish wasn’t heatproof! It t’was u-u-ugly!

4. The OMG part of this recipe: Combine the olive oil and sesame oil in a small saucepan and heat over moderately high heat until just smoking. Too hot and the oil will burn; too cool and you won’t get the voilà. Remove from the heat and immediately spoon the oil over the fish (make sure you do this step while your guests are watching!). The hot oil partially sears the fish with a pleasing crackle and hiss as you pour it on.

“Crackle and hiss!” The raw fish is partially cooked by the near-smoking oil. Great for the sashimi-phobics.

5. Serve at once!

Yield: 4-5 servings


This dish is ridiculously easy except for the planning part. Ideally the fish sits in the miso ‘paste’ for three days. The long wait time makes this dish sublime – but sometimes I get impatient or forget to pre-plan and let it sit just a few hours.


3 tbsp mirin
3 tbsp sake
1/2 cup white miso paste
1/3 cup sugar
Six 6 or  7-ounce skinless black cod fillets (or improvised with what came home from your fishing trip!)

1. In a small saucepan, bring the mirin and sake to a boil. Whisk in the miso until dissolved. Add the sugar and cook over moderate heat, whisking, just until dissolved. Let cool to room temp then stick in the fridge. I always make this marinade ahead of time. At least the night before marinating. Honestly, I always have a batch of it in my fridge for just such occasions.

2. Add the fish to the cool paste and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least three hours but ideally three days. And no, the fish doesn’t go bad – it…transcends!

Hello, my gorgeous fishy!

3. Put the rack inside your oven to a tier close to the top. Preheat the broiler. Layer a broiler pan with foil. Scrape most of the miso paste off the fish (discard) and place the fish on the foil-covered pan.

4. Stay close to the oven as you slide in the pan of fish and let broil for about 7 minutes. The sugars in the paste with char a bit but you don’t want the whole thing black. Keep an eye on it and turn it over and let cook another 3 minutes. The paste keeps this fish pretty forgiving – overcooking, as long as you don’t burn the kitchen down – and the fish still stays to-die-for-moist.

Yield: 4-5 servings…everyone loves this so this recipe incorporates extra bites!

Add a few slivers of hot pepper for color. I mean, it’s YOUR dish.


Oh, don’t make me copy and paste…just check out the last time we diced some up: Shark Attacks. Cape Cod. Ceviche.’

Girls braiding hair, like eating good food, is a cross-cultural treat.

Les French People get into the swing of The Muddy Kitchen fairly easily.

Au revoir mon frère.

Take those boots off before you come in here!

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Karen Goldberg

you have convinced even me to get helpers… xo


Jennifer Solow

Oh, Ms. Goldberg – I’m so pleased you stopped by for a visit. xx Love you.



The sashimi looks so pretty!


Jennifer Solow

Thanks! Your website is great—lots of good advice for those of us who don’t always get it right!



I’m SO trying the recipe –
I gave relatives arriving today & will try to take your advice & get the cooking!


Jennifer Solow

Lemme know how it goes, lady. Will you, please?!



Thank you for this article. I have always been shy to make my guests at home help out and this is an eye-opener. I only want them to be comfortable and just eat and do their own stuff whenever they are at my place while I am doing everything so I miss chatting with them. I will have my ladies at home next weekend and we’ll have food-trip. 🙂 Everyone will bring food and we’ll cook Korean dishes at home, too!


Jennifer Solow

I can totally relate, Sheila. I always think, “Oh, let them just hang out and enjoy themselves.” But I always notice the transformation when people get to help cook. A happy community forms in the kitchen! Let me know how your Korean meal goes. What are you cooking?



That’s right. I can’t wait to have them over next weekend. We’d mess up the kitchen for sure. 🙂 I’ll be cooking a Filipino Dish called Pork Sinigang. 🙂


Jennifer Solow

Need recipe at once!



That’s right! 🙂


auntie jane

Jennifer, this was wonderful.

Uncle Bill and I used to do Chinese cooperative dinner parties with the guests each cooking a stir fry dish, so we could all sit down together.. The two of us chopped and slivered and minced and measured everything for all ahead of time. In that house we had a two wok range and added three electric woks. Each recipe was printed out in large type and pasted to a foam core standing backer. Each premeasured ingredient was in a color coded paper cup. Bill and I had also made a few of dishes ahead like a casserole of 1″ long baby back ribs in fermented black beans, shrimp toast, some steamed things in stacked baskets, chicken feet to test the tolerance of some of the guests and to indulge our sense of humor. and then ready, set, go. Those parties were memorable for the reasons you state. There was ownership of a dish for even those, who NEVER cooked. Oh, those community evenings are still fresh in my mind.


Jennifer Solow

You have any recipes to share, Auntie J? xx


Solow Nan

We love helping you when we visit. It’s a joyful experience, and I’m glad you are willing to share the fun. Food is even more delicious when we have a part in making it, even if it’s just cutting up the veggies.


Jennifer Solow

Thanks, Mama. xx



A timely reminder that it’s all about sharing & connections. Sure it’s a lot easier doing it yourself (are t most things) but memories are made through shared experiences. And I really love the sashimi. Might have to dig out my husband’s old fishing rod. Or go to the fishmonger more like it 🙂 Lovely images. And French accent.


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