Planning and Preparing a National Day Eve Dinner for 130+ pax

Friday, August 10, 2012

I will detail here the planning, preparations and some of the recipes which the Food Ministry team in my church whipped up for a recent Alpha Introduction dinner. This is our second time and I have documented our first experience in a guest blog here.

This will be helpful as reference as the team continue to plan and cook for future events. Those of you who cook for parties or large gatherings (birthdays, Alpha Course etc) could be inspired by some of our experiences here.  

So, how do you cook for 130+ pax? The meal has to be appropriate and special as we normally serve better food for the first Introductory or Celebration Alpha session. We initially thought of Hakka Yong Tau Foo but changed our minds as the number of guests kept increasing. The logistics involved to keep the YTF pieces crisp and hot will be challenging.

It was a great dinner atmosphere 
And plating for each diner is out of question as the dinner has to be completed within an hour. For over 100 pax will be a challenge though I did not think it is impossible. There are some merits to plating, such as controlling the portions and enhancing the dining experience as taste and texture on the plate is carefully coordinated.

We finally settled for a buffet spread of a mix of cuisine types. Without breaking the budget, the dishes have to be done well, taste unique and different from the usual catered ones.

Meat: Poached and grilled Chicken Breast/48-hour Short Rib 
Seafood: Butter Prawns/Red Curry Salmon
Veg: Mixed Greens Salad, Warm mix Veg, Roasted Pumpkin
Carbo: Bread with dip as starters, Butter Rice and Warm Potato Salad

Butter Rice
I opted for buttered rice due to the accompaniments. Use the rice cooker to heat up the butter (150g). Add some herbs (I used taragon) and then, add the rice. Stir till the rice is coated with the butter. Add some chicken stock, water and salt. I use the 1:1 rice-water ratio which should produce a fluffy and separate rice grains. I thought 5 kg was sufficient but the rice ran out. I should have added two more kg.  

Warm Mixed Veg and Roasted Pumpkin
Carrots, brocolli etc is often underrated and overlooked on a buffet line. But if blanched, kept to the right texture and lightly flavored (without masking the veg sweetness), they taste great. And this did, thanks to the careful and attentive preparations by the ladies. Good job! We used cheap Malaysian pumpkin to roast. But we really loved how it turned out. Add some olive oil, lightly salted and peppered..dig your spoon into it and enjoy.

Looks good, taste good..with the right crunch
Warm Potato Salad with Bratwurst Sausages
We initially thought of making mash potatoes but switched to this richer recipe as the number of guests increased. Inspired by a recipe from Chef Jasque Pepin, we thought this will work great and it did.

Use washed golden potatoes and add some red ones for different textures and colours. We boiled 14 kg in the large rice cooker. About 30-40 minutes will do. Poke a fork into some potatoes and if it goes in easily, they are done. Put them into the serving tray (don't soak in cold water as they will absorb water and turn soggy.) Use a scissors to cut the potatoes. If they are broken and look smashed, this is ok as it means they will absorb the sauce and flavors better.

Use the same rice cooker to cook the sausages in their packs. 10 minutes will do. Slice diagonally into the trays.  Meanwhile, prepare the sauce. Fry some diced bacon. The add the leeks and after 5 minutes, chopped white onions. Leeks are 'leafy onions.' They add texture and taste. Add some white wine, mustard and salt to flavor. Pour into the trays and mixed. Garnish with parsley.


The use of Sous Vide to prepare the meat dishes staggers the cooking time and with the food vacuum packed, it makes handling easier.

Beef Short Rib
Boneless short rib ran out of stock - or at least the more affordable ones - and I have to resort to frozen sliced boned-in grain-fed ones. They were well-marbled. These below have been poaching at 55°C for 48 hours. As they are already cooked, all it needs is some quick pan-searing just before serving. Japanese soy sauce was used to glazed the meat while searing. Many diners were surprised by how good they taste.
Sous Vide set up

Cooked medium rare for 48 hrs at 55C and fridged.
It is easier to cut into smaller pieces when it is cold.  
This taste better than it looked.
Tender & flavorful, it is not your ordinary 'kalbi' short ribs
Poached Salmon Fish in Red Thai Curry Sauce
The 4 whole salmons were bought from a nearby supermart and it was on sale. They filleted it and I vacuum pack and fridged them immediately once I reach home. I had it sous vided at 50°C for 15 minutes. This produces a nice buttery smooth flaky texture which you can cut easily with a spoon. It goes well with sauce and I opted for a light Thai red curry version. Mixed some red chilli paste with coconut, fish sauce, palm sugar and chopped kaffir lime leaves. I have blogged the recipe here.

Some members of the team thought the salmon were not cooked enough and were more used to the idea of  a crispy skin and a more cooked meat. The earlier delicate preparation came to naught as the Sous Vide-ed fish went into the oven for a second round of cooking and I was too busy to explain the direction I was going and overrule the further steps. But it is an interesting point to note that I need to brief the team more thoroughly. Fish is delicate and there is a lightly poached texture at 50°C (either poached in olive oil, stock or Sous Vide) which turns salmon into a wonderful moist meat which most diners may not have experienced or gotten used to. I personally believe this is how salmon should be enjoyed.It is the next best thing to eating it raw (sashimi).

The generic overcooked salmon where the flakeless meat is dry and need a knife to cut though is one reason why salmon has become such an ordinary generic fish dish. Like good beef, if you overcook it, you turn it into a very ordinary meat.

Vacuum-packed and into the fridge
The fish's white proteins did ooze out and this could have been prevented if I had dry-salted the fish beforehand.

Here is a closer pic of how a gently poached salmon look like:

This is what it looks like after gentle poaching. 
Butter Prawns

This is an easy crowd-pleaser. It is a golden bundle of umami flavours which explodes in your mouth as you first taste the buttery sauce, bite into the crisp coating and then into the meat of fresh prawns. The good wok fire made short work of the deep frying step. I do have the recipe blogged here. I bought 6 kilos of large grey prawns but this was barely enough. I have blogged the recipe here.
This is how it looks before being coated with the sauce

Poach and grilled Chicken Breast

Using the Sous Vide method, the breast meat turned out moist and tender (see cover photo). It went into the oven for a quick grill to crisp the skin. I have blog the technique here.

The desserts line
As for the dessert buffet, that came after the Alpha Session proper.

The team had fun and enjoyed working together. Whether it is the cooks, the "sous chefs" or just cutting the veg, everyone played an important role to make this wonderful dinner possible. The good thing about picking up the courage to cook instead of catering is that over time, people with passion for cooking will step up. The team did a great job. Thanks guys!

The Alpha Course is just starting. If you are interested in attending this Course which explains the basics of Christianity in a friendly environment, do context Glenn Chan at Tel: 64690715  or email You can also find out more details about the course here.

There are also Alpha Courses being organised in many locations during this season. Visit this site to find out.

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  1. Sounds amazing. Wish I was there to learn to cook all those dishes!

  2. You can come and cook a few for us :)