Whether it's a French buffet, Swedish smorgasbord or Spanish tapas, allowing guests to help themselves from large tables laden with food is an American tradition. Chicken is a safe choice to add to a buffet menu, because it is easy on the waistline and the budget. Its mild flavor pairs well with other dishes and can stand up to most types of sauces.
Cocktail Party Buffet
Since cocktail parties encourage guests to stand and mingle rather than sit and eat, the menu should include small bites that do not require a fork and knife. Chicken lollipops are a simple and creative addition to any buffet. Since the meat of the chicken wing is pushed to one end leaving a long, clean bone for guests to grasp, forks and knives are not required. Make mini kebabs using small skewers or toothpicks and cubes of glazed or marinated boneless, skinless chicken. Pair sweet and sour chicken with pineapple chunks, tequila or margarita chicken with a small wedge of lime or barbecue chicken with a piece of avocado or bacon.
Etiquette for formal dinners requires the use of a fork and knife; using the fingers to eat is socially unacceptable at this type of gathering. Avoid serving chicken on the bone or any preparation that guests could find difficult to eat without making a mess. For a formal buffet, prepare whole boneless chicken breasts or thighs for each guest instead of cut-up chicken in a family-style dish, like chicken stew. Poach, grill or bake the chicken and serve with a simple sauce, such as a balsamic glaze or lemon-caper or honey-dijon sauce, or pound boneless breasts into thin cutlets and roll them around a stuffing of spinach and ricotta cheese, prosciutto and provolone cheese or an herbed bread stuffing with nuts and dried fruit. Make sure that the serving dishes have tongs and a large spoon so the guests can help themselves to chicken as well as any sauce or juice on the bottom of the pan. If there is an on-site catering staff, consider a carving station with whole roasted chickens.
Casual buffets have few restrictions. Instead of worrying about the type of foods served, think of the overall flavor profile. Choosing a theme for the menu is a good way to ensure that the overall flavors complement each other. An Asian menu might include chicken and vegetable pot stickers or dumplings, or General Tso's chicken served on small skewers with broccoli florets. A Southern-inspired feast could feature fried chicken and waffles or country-fried chicken with gravy. Go Italian with a big dish of chicken cacciatore or chicken piccata.
Outdoor Barbecue Buffet
Using the hands to eat at an outdoor barbecue is not only acceptable, it is almost inevitable. This leaves the door open for a variety of poultry choices, including buffalo chicken wings, barbecued chicken legs or mini grilled pizzas topped with barbecue sauce, chopped chicken, caramelized onions and cheddar cheese.
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