For most of us Halloween conjures up visions of ghoulish green drinks, wine gum worms and peeled grapes masquerading as eye balls. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of childish fun, but many of us prefer the occasion to be a little more sophisticated (if not particularly grown-up).
Whatever else it may be, Halloween is a great excuse for experimental entertaining, and we have a few tips to offer. If your heart is set on a full-blown gothic banquet, you’ll need one hell of a time plan and should prepare as many elements as possible in advance. Good menu options include ribs (ideally with a sticky reddish glaze), crustaceans for their striking appearance and colour, or more familiar foods like pasta or risotto, made slightly surreal with a bit of squid ink, chocolate or black food colouring. Stick with natural colourings (beetroot juice, cacao, pumpkin, squid ink) for a classier, less garish look.
If you’re entertaining a larger horde, a sophisticated canapé party is hard to beat. The trick is to keep it simple – if you’re smart about it the guests won’t notice. Combine a few really easy canapés with one or two more complicated ones. Devilled quail eggs (especially pickled in beetroot juice) are pretty simple and dependable, and Halloween-themed tortilla chips are always fun (using cookie cutters shaped like bats, pumpkins, witches etc.), oven baked and served with guacamole. If you’re feeling more adventurous, homemade scotch eggs tend to disappear in no time, especially when a little grated beetroot is added to the meat filling for earthy flavours and vivid colours. A classic but highly effective trick is to make mini-meringues into ghostly shapes, then decorate (or just splatter) with red fruit juice, beetroot juice or food colouring.
A more elegant option is to serve caviar in small pastry baskets. You can buy these or make them yourself, then fill them up with a bit of scrambled egg white, topped with a neat spoonful of black caviar and a sprinkle of chives. Lumpfish eggs are ideal for this because their powerful saltiness help give the canapé more heft, while their deep black colour is appropriate for the occasion. However, if you plan to spend big on real sturgeon caviar we recommend reigning in the other flavours to avoid overwhelming it. A simpler, but still sophisticated option is a small slice of steak, cooked rare and served on a small bed of seaweed spaghetti and sliced blackberries, ideally presented on a spoon or a miniature presentation boat. These morsels are easy to make in large numbers, and a great way to create an intriguing combination of flavours and textures, which is what good canapés are all about.
As mentioned above, crustaceans are a great fit with Halloween. Ordinarily, we would recommend peeling them for service, perhaps leaving the tail attached. But they have much more visual impact with the shell left on, which is precisely what we want on such an occasion. Just make sure you provide a bowl for peeled shells and plenty of napkins. Again, this is very easy to prepare. Simply arrange the prawns around the edge of a bowl of aioli, topped with chopped black olives (which can be crisped up in the oven at 100C for an hour, adding a nice crunch).
Perhaps the easiest and most crucial area to be inventive is with the drinks. Bloody Mary is both classic and effective, but rather dense and not to everyone’s taste. Try substituting the tomato juice for beetroot for a similarly earthy and vivid drink. Black Russian is another obvious, sinister-looking beverage – but we recommend substituting the overly-sweet Kahlúa for cold brew coffee liquor for an added kick! And for the really adventurous we recommend oyster shooters. This is an American West Coast treat, commonly believed to have been invented in a San Francisco restaurant around 1860 by a miner back from the gold fields. Our version is a little updated with cooked beetroot cubes at the bottom of the glass, along with a raw or cooked oyster, topped with chilli vodka and a gold leaf.
Whatever you get up to on the night, have a happy Halloween!