The celebrity chef-and former baseball player-prepares a Super Bowl menu for the masses
Super Bowl Sunday may be the most widely celebrated entertaining day of the year. It's nondenominational, and you don't even need to know how to cook. Guys who never go near the stove break out their once-a-year chili. To celebrity chefs, though, it's a different kind of opportunity.
"To me, the Super Bowl is all about the memories," says Todd English, an avid Patriots fan and former Guilford College baseball player who has gone on to great success quarterbacking a restaurant empire. Since he opened his first restaurant-the Charlestown, Massachusetts-based Olives-in 1989, he has expanded his reach to include eateries all over the country and even at sea-his eponymous Todd English is the gourmet option on the $800-million Queen Mary 2.
In anticipation of the big event, English has composed a Super Bowl party menu inspired by his youth tailgating at football games in Atlanta. It features the traditionally hearty and masculine fare you associate with Super Bowl celebrations, like spare ribs and fried chicken, but with atypical gourmet flourishes (unless your last Super Bowl menu featured crème fraîche, Champagne, and crostini).
"Don't overwhelm your guests with too much structure. Remember, you're not the star of the show, the game is."
Though all of this might seem a little, well, fancy for screaming folks in football jerseys, English says that serving slightly elevated fare is a great way to make your party memorable. Instead of making the usual mound of unremarkable food, give your guests this meal and they're certain to remember more than the game. Motivated team players can cook the whole menu; easily distracted types may want to just add elements of it to dress up the usual chili and dips. "Hey, if you gotta," English says, "you can always dunk a shrimp or a crostini in some bean dip."
• Serve something different
There are, of course, Super Bowl standbys-dip, chili, the giant sandwich-but that doesn't mean you can't put a new spin on old classics. English riffed on fried chicken by putting it in a salad for a slightly lighter touch. When he makes chili, he uses shredded pork rather than beef (see Todd's bonus recipe for Short Rib Chili with Bacon-Wrapped Tenderloin Tips). Want to really impress your guests? Make your own tortilla chips or, as English has done, homemade crackers.
• Tread lightly
Super Bowl fare can be pretty heavy. English throws in a salad (albeit one with fried chicken), so you may want to offer something like veggie sticks of celery, carrots, broccoli, or green beans, all of which are easy to prepare and go great with dips.
• Start with the cold beer early
"Longnecks on ice are good, and a mini keg is great," says English, who recommends Lone Star, Asahi, Kirin, and Stella Artois (or consider tracking down brews from each team's hometown). The chef advises tapping the keg at about noon on Sunday for early-arriving guests, but mostly for the MVP-you. (English also serves a Champagne punch; click for his recipe.)
• No cooking during the game
Your cooking deadline should be the only strict thing about your Super Bowl extravaganza. Since the game starts at about 6:15 p.m. eastern time, Todd says you'll want all the cooking to be done by 5 so you can greet your guests, relax, and enjoy the festivities. (Although, he points out, you will have to tend to the lamb ribs slightly, as you don't want lamb fat to congeal.) In order to save yourself more time, set up your living room a day in advance.
• Think ahead
If you're making chili, consider cooking it a day (or two) before. According to English, "The chili tastes better two days from now than it does the day you make it, because the flavors soak in."
• Show some team spirit
If the Patriots are in the big game, you might go with a red, white, and blue color scheme. This can extend to the food, too. Perhaps you could serve a chowder for the New England juggernaut and/or some Tex-Mex if the Cowboys make the game. Choose Cheddar, of course, for the Green Bay Packers. If the Indianapolis Colts return to the game, you may be in for some heavy Internet research. Uh...cans of Colt 45?
• Remember, the game means different things to different people
You'll probably have big-time football fans, casual partiers, and some folks who are most interested in the halftime show and/or commercials. With this in mind, if you have two televisions, you may want to set up two viewing stations-one for the hardcore fans who need to hear every second of commentary, and the other for chatty types.
• Put away the expensive stuff
No one is going to be evaluating your silverware and china at a Super Bowl party.
• Get 'em drunk and keep 'em that way
You're bound to disappoint guests if your bar isn't well stocked. Aside from the aforementioned mini keg and punch, give your party some spirit(s). "I'm from the South, so I always like to have some brown liquor handy," says English. Bourbon and Scotch are good brawny choices that also work well in cocktails.
• Ice, baby
Even though the game takes place in the dead of winter, you'll want to have a surplus of ice for your guests' sodas, longnecks, and liquor.
• Divide and conquer
Nothing should sit around at room temperature for long, so if you make a large batch of guacamole or dip, divide it into separate bowls to put in the fridge and serve only one bowl at a time. Also divide cheese and cold cuts into smaller plates and refrigerate what you're not serving.
• Fourth-quarter dessert
Give your guests something deliciously sweet for the exciting end of the game, or to distract them if their team is being massacred. Todd's Caramel Macadamia Rice Crispies will make the Patriot-haters forget all about their Bill Belichick murder plots.
• Keep it loose
Don't overwhelm your guests with too much structure. Some hosts recommend a halftime sit-down meal, but this could cause problems for halftime-show watchers, as well as halftime smokers. Remember, you're not the star of the show, the game is.
• Simmer down
A Super Bowl party is full of surprises, like the third-quarter arrival of someone's drunken cousin. You never know who'll show up, so have something like a chili simmering so everyone, whether deserving or not, gets good hot food. Use an assortment of slow cookers or chafing dishes to keep food warm the entire game.
• Quick and accessible self-service
A living-room buffet setup is preferable, with food spread out for quick and easy access to avoid a time-consuming lineup that causes folks to miss the game's crucial touchdown.
• Definitely don't serve people
People will want to grab the grub speedily without missing the game.
• There will be fumbles
You're going to have messy food, lots of booze, and overexcited people. Be ready to clean and forgive.
• Pace yourself
Don't overexert yourself, as a host, eater, or drinker. Nothing's worse than missing the game's crucial final moments due to stress or gastrointestinal distress.
Todd English's Super Game-Day Menu
by Jake Kalish
For more game day recipes and tips, check out our complete Super Bowl package.