The ultimate summer garden party
Summer may well be fleeting in our typically temperate country, however it is equally fabulous – as soon as the sunshine rears its head, most of us rush to the shops quicker than a stampede of migrating wildebeest to stock up on everything we need for that ultimate of gatherings: the summer garden party. Firstly, pick a date and let your friends know – it’s likely you’ll be invited to a few across our short-lived sunny season, and date clashes need to be avoided at all costs – then, all you need to do is follow our handy tips and guidelines and you’re good to go.
A(nother) note on invitations…
As already mentioned in the introduction above, getting your ‘save the date’ notification out there is as important as compiling the guest list itself, so a great way to save time (and benefit the environment while doing so) is to invite your friends digitally via Paperless Post. Anything but bland, their online invitations ooze personality and feature lots of designer collections from the likes of Kate Spade and Gwyneth Paltrow; updating time or place changes can be done at the click of a button; you’ll receive an immediate RSVP, so working out your numbers is a breeze; and, importantly, you can set up online polls to work out who likes to drink what and whether you have any veggies in your midst… Check out www.paperlesspost.com and see what suits you.
First things first: essentials check list:
- A large parasol or gazebo
- A makeshift bar
- Enough comfortable furniture, plus spare foldaway deckchairs)
- Serving platters, picnic cutlery, colourful paper plates and oodles of napkins
- A brilliant, big-enough BBQ, plus tools and resting plates.
- We love the Big Green Egg. Used by some of the best chefs around the world, these ceramic kamado-style cookers are the best in the business, and are so much more than a BBQ. Prices start at £625 – now available to order in-store. Available at Macknade Fine Foods, www.macknade.com.
- Mesh food covers
- Glasses, paper cups and mugs
- Coasters and mats
- Enough allotted flat spaces for guests to place their glasses
- Outdoor lights for when day turns to night, plus blankets to keep late-night revellers warm
What to drink:
Nothing screams ‘summer celebration’ like cocktails, so cocktails you must drink. They’re a great way to kick start the day being both ‘special’ in that we don’t drink them all the time, and a very effective social lubricant too.
Stick to one star of the show, which brings something different to your party – we’d recommend a twist on a classic G&T using Bullards ‘Strawberry & Black Pepper Norwich Gin’ – pitched as the perfect summer refresher, this relatively new gin is available nationwide and is a sweet, fruity and slightly peppery combination made using real strawberries, black pepper, cardamom and lemon peel, aimed at gin connoisseurs who are looking for something different and delicious that can be enjoyed as a long drink.
How to drink it:
Invest in some proper copa gin glasses and half fill them with ice. Add a 50ml shot of Strawberry & Black Pepper Norwich Gin, two halves of fresh strawberry and three mint leaves before topping with Fever-Tree ‘Naturally Light’ tonic water.
Creating cocktails one at a time is hugely time consuming though, so to compliment your ‘signature’ cocktail, also opt for a couple of classics such as the margarita (2 shots tequila, 1 shot lime juice, 1⁄2 shot triple sec, served shaken and strained into a salt-rimmed glass), and the cosmopolitan (1 shot vodka, 1⁄2 shot triple sec, 1⁄2 shot cranberry juice, 1⁄2 shot lime juice, served shaken and strained into a martini glass) and make batches of them in jugs beforehand that can be easily poured over ice. Remember the non-drinkers too – a virgin peach Bellini is a thirst-quenching 50/50 combination of peach juice and sparkling lemonade that you can garnish with mint to make a little more party appropriate.
Top cocktail tip:
Ice is one of the most important ingredients in your cocktails – especially when, fingers crossed, you’ll be sipping them to stay refreshed on a warm summer’s day. To compliment a freezer-draw full of bags of ice cubes (handy, but melt quickly when left out) make your own ice by filling clean oven trays and as many other large, flat containers as you can fit in your freezer with filtered water. Once frozen solid, bash into smaller blocks, or add a whole block to a punch bowl for slow dilution.
What to eat:
Of course, the most obvious choice here is to have a barbecue and that’s exactly what you should do to provide the foundations of your garden party spread – forget boring bangers and burgers though and opt for chicken breasts, prawn skewers, minute steaks and salmon fillets instead.
Make sure you marinade them too. For the fish and chicken go for a Caribbean-style marinade using (per four portions) 3tbsp lime juice, 2tbsp olive oil, 3tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, 2tsp finely chopped rosemary, one large red chilli (finely chopped), and four thinly sliced spring onions. For any red meat try a Korean-style marinade made with (per four steaks) 3tbsp sugar, 6tbsp soy sauce, 2tbsp vegetable oil, 2tbsp toasted sesame oil, 1tbsp peeled, grated ginger, three grated garlic cloves and one finely chopped shallot.
Often, the very best thing about barbecued food is all of the accompaniments you can easily prepare to compliment them. Make sure you have plenty of dips and crudité set out for your guests to pick at throughout the party – stirring some roasted cherry tomatoes and red peppers into guacamole produces a lighter version that cuts through some of the rich avocado with a hint of sweetness and tang; and anchoïade is a really bold, gutsy dip made using anchovy fillets, garlic, shallots and parsley that works with crudité and with slices of crusty baguette too.
Bite-sized finger food is always well appreciated by milling partygoers, but that doesn’t have to mean straight-out-of-the-seventies vol-au-vents are your go-to solution. Blinis are the new vol-au-vents and can be piled high with beetroot and quail’s egg; smoked salmon and crème fraiche; and artichoke and lemon dip. Potato salad and salsa verde is a crowd pleaser that will go with all of your barbecued meats and fish; and, in my greedy opinion, no party is complete without a cheese board groaning under the weight of a huge Brie. You’ll think you’re full, but a few cocktails down the line as day turns into night, somehow you’ll always find room for cheese.
Anchoïade dip (4)
60g anchovy fillets, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 shallots, roughly chopped
1tbsp red wine vinegar
Handful parsley, finely chopped
150ml extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
- To make the anchoïade. Put all the ingredients except the olive oil and black pepper in a processor and switch on. Once blended, pour the olive oil into the blender in a steady stream and blend until it forms a thick sauce.
- Pour into a pan and heat through. Season with freshly ground black pepper and serve immediately.
Beer Can Chicken (4)
1 whole chicken (1.3kg)
1 500ml can of lager
For the rub:
2tbsp cayenne powder (or less to taste)
2tbsp ground black pepper
1tbsp rock salt
1tbsp garlic powder
1tsp mustard powder
1tsp ground cumin
- Light a lidded barbecue and allow the flames to die down.
- Once the coals are ready, carefully spread them to form a ring around the outside edge of the barbecue as you don’t want your chicken to be placed directly on the heat.
- If you’re using a smaller barbecue, you may need to remove the grills and place the chicken on a roasting tin on the floor of the barbecue in the middle of the coals – this will give you space to close the lid once the chicken is in. If you have a large barbecue, the chicken can sit directly on the grill.
- Mix together the herbs and spices to form a rub.
- Drizzle the chicken with olive oil then massage the rub into the skin, ensuring the inside of the chicken is coated too.
- Open the beer can and take several sips until the can is half full.
- Place the can on a solid surface, grab a chicken leg in each hand and place the bird over the beer can, the beer will evaporate whilst cooking which will keep the chicken moist and tender.
- Once the chicken is sitting upright, transfer the bird onto the centre of the barbecue in the middle of the coals, either in the roasting tin or directly on the grill.
- The two legs should help the chicken to balance like a tripod.
- Close the BBQ lid and cook for 1hr 20 mins until the chicken is crisp, the meat tender and the juices run clear.
- If the juices aren’t clear after this time, cook for a further 10 mins, then check again.
- The internal temperature of the chicken needs to be 74°C.
- Once the chicken is cooked, remove from the barbecue and cover in tin foil for 10 minutes before serving.
What to do:
Other than sip on delicious drinks, eat some good food and catch up with your nearest and dearest, there’s not an awful lot anyone needs to ‘do’ at a summer garden party, and there’s nothing worse than a forced schedule of games. That said, you need to set the scene and give people the option to have a laugh if they want to. Make sure there’s space suitable for a bit of a boogie if you have known movers and shakers among your peers.
Next, music. Compile your party playlist well ahead of time – for the musically challenged among us, there’s lots of inspiration and pre-prepared playlists that you can legally pinch from streaming services like Spotify and Soundcloud. Make sure you’re plugged into a good speaker too.
It won’t do you any harm to hire a karaoke machine. They’re a relatively cheap option (you’ll probably be able to borrow one if you ask around) and can simply be set up somewhere to be pounced on as and when your guests may feel the need to belt out a bit of Bob Dylan, before they launch into an existential debate about what on earth a rolling stone does actually feel like.
When day has become night and the party’s over, pack your guests off into taxis (pre-booked taxis; you’ll thank me for that) and slam the door shut. You’ve done it. Sling your shoes off, kick back with one for the road, and don’t, under any circumstances look at the mess they’ve made of your garden (and probably parts of your house too) – it’s a party; give yourself a break and tidy up in the morning.