May It Please the Palate

Chicken Potluck Surprise

By Nick Roumel

I am embarrassed to confess that I do not have a “go-to” potluck dish.

I plan for the potluck with the best of intentions. I think about it for a few days, imagine what I might make, and bask in the accolades of my fellow partygoers. Key word: Imagine.

The reality is a bit different. Take my most recent potluck, scheduled for 7:30 PM last Saturday.

I was supposed to have a dish chosen by the morning and shopped by the afternoon. Instead, I slept in, went directly to a UM football tailgate and then the game.

When I returned home, I took a nap. I imagined it was because of all the fresh air, and had nothing to do with the tailgate party.

I awoke an hour and a half before the potluck. I had no dish chosen, none shopped for, and of course no time to cook.

So the food writer was going to go to the party with store bought food. Nice. (At least he wasn’t chintzy; a couple pounds of cocktail shrimp did the trick.)

But the hit of the buffet was someone else’s crab stuffed mushrooms, still sizzling from the oven — a dish that I had thought of fleetingly, and then discarded as reality intruded on my dreams.

A “go-to” potluck dish has to fit many criteria — fast to shop, simple to make, easy to transport. It must also be tasty, hot, lukewarm, or cold.

Many of my favorite Greek dishes meet the latter standard, like spanakopita and moussaka.

You know them as spinach pie and, well, moussaka. The problem is that they’re a pain to make.

Sure, if you’re a Greek shepherd’s wife, and he’s out in the field with the sheep all day, you’ve got all the time in the world. You can paint the phyllo dough with butter and layer it carefully, all while humming the theme music from “Never on Sunday.”

When he comes in from the fields, dusty with wool and looking a little flush in the cheeks, he’ll be grateful for your effort.

But we busy lawyers don’t have time for that. We barely have time to stop by the overpriced deli counter at Whole Paycheck on our way to the party.

Which leads me back to, what’s my potluck go-to dish?

Let’s ask a different question. When you go to a potluck, what guilty indulgence are you happiest to see on the table?

For me, before I got squeamish about factory chicken, my answer was KFC. It fit all the criteria.

You could have it ready to serve without leaving your car, and it was tasty right out of the bucket — or the next morning, say if you found a stray drumstick on your front seat during your morning commute.

Dips are another one. I’m a sucker for dip. I swear, take a bag of good potato chips and some homemade sour cream dip to your next potluck and you’ll be the hit of the party.

Another easy one is pimento dip with crackers. Cheddar, canned pimento, mayo, and maybe a touch of jalapeno in the food processor. Whir. Yum.

Boursin cheese is another idea in a pinch.

It’s about $9 for a portion the size of your thumb, which contains 3000 calories, but it’s so good and a rare indulgence.

I’ve never been much for making desserts, but if I see a well-placed cheesecake or homemade raspberry chocolate torte on your table, I’ll be sleeping overnight.

Which leads me back to the opening question — what is my go-to potluck dish? (Yes, I’m getting to that, your honor.)

If I have time to prepare something, it’ll be mac and cheese, or the following chicken dish, which is very easy. Forgive me if it’s light on specifics:

Nick’s Go-To Dazzling Holiday Chicken Potluck Surprise

A few pounds of chicken breast, cut up into nugget-sized cubes
Chopped garlic
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Your favorite herbs, like chopped flat-leaf parsley
Cherry tomatoes

Toss the chicken with olive oil, chopped garlic, kosher salt, pepper and lemon. Bake at 350° for 10-15 minutes until cooked through but still tender. Let cool.
Toss with more olive oil, garlic, lemon, cherry tomatoes, and chopped parsley. Taste and if needed, season with salt and pepper.
Put on a plate. It’s surprisingly pretty. Slap a serving spoon on there. Serve hot, room temperature or cold.

It’s good with dip, too.
Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard and Walker, P.C., a litigation firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes and writes a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine.