What is the easiest way to convert a recipe that feeds four or five people to one that feeds 50? Your best friend here is a calculator, but don’t get carried away. It is advisable to never cook more than 25 servings of anything but soup in a home kitchen. The pots and pans you have are probably just not big enough, and even if they are, your stove isn’t quite strong enough to cook more than that.
If you multiply every ingredient in a recipe for four servings by six, you will get 24 servings. If you multiply recipes for six by four, you will get 24 servings. Any recipe that feeds eight needs to be multiplied by three to give you 24 servings. I picked these numbers because most recipes serve four, six, or eight people. I can’t think of anything that serves five.
When cooking large batches, one thing to be careful of is crowding your pans when you’re sautéing or frying. Measuring the ingredients isn’t that difficult, but you don’t want to cook too much of anything that needs to be browned at one time because it will steam instead. When cooking a large pot of something, such as a stew, it will take much longer to simmer or come to a boil, so plan ahead. Once a stew does come to a simmer, the time required to cook it remains the same. Baking a really big pan of ziti takes longer than preparing a small serving in a casserole dish.
When I make large batches of food and I need to add, for example, 12 cups of broth to a soup, I write down every time I empty one 4-cup measuring cup of broth into the pot. When I get to three, I know I’m done. Usually the phone rings or someone buzzes the doorbell while I’m counting, and I lose track if I don’t have my notes. The other thing I do and this was hard for me at first, but it’s really useful is to write in my cookbooks next to every ingredient. I use a pencil to write how much I need for large servings. I was brought up to never, ever write in a book, but I now look at cookbooks as workbooks, and I need that information in there especially when I need to double a recipe, such as soups, which I know I’ll be preparing ahead of time to freeze.
Another thing you need to think about when cooking in large batches is where you are going to store it. Do you have enough refrigerator space to keep potato salad, coleslaw, baked beans, hot dogs, and hamburgers for the family reunion of 50? Can your refrigerator handle all that food? Be sure it isn’t hot when you put it in storage containers, especially if your refrigerator is going to be crowded. You need some air to circulate around the food to cool it and keep it cold. The last thing you want is 50 sick relatives.
One final thing to consider when preparing large quantities of food in advance is how you will be reheating. I have seen people place cold food over cold water in an aluminum warmer, light the Sterno, and then wonder why the food never gets hot and everyone has to eat cold lasagna noodles. Heat the food in a preheated oven and then transfer it to the chafing dish or Sterno set-up. They were designed to keep hot food hot, not for cooking or heating.
Good luck with cooking large quantities. If you really like it, you may have a future as a caterer.