Content Warning: puns for days; mild Jeremy Renner bashing; casual commentary about nonessential details of movies that probably can't be taken to constitute a "spoiler" per se, but that may bother you if you haven't seen Arrival yet and are the type who refuses to hear anything about a movie prior to watching it, in which case, why don't you just read this nice essay about making ramen or something?
Another year, another Academy Awards, another Oscars party to plan for. Here at Serious Eats, that means it's also time for another pun-tastic Oscars party menu of dishes appropriate for the occasion. (And for a somewhat-eyeroll-worthy-but-hey-still-kinda-clever! headline to go with it, one which Niki suggested for a similar roundup three years ago, then forgot about, then heatedly opposed this year until she remembered that she was the first to suggest it. In other words, Niki was for this headline before she was against it, before she was for it again.) Whether you're having a bunch of friends over to watch Arrival take Best Picture, or you're just going to watch Arrival take the prize all by yourself, any of these dishes would be a perfect accompaniment to celebrating Arrival's clear supremacy.*
I mean, it has its faults, but it was pretty great!
Appetizers and Hors d'Oeuvres Heptapod Gallego
No better way to celebrate the idea of a masterful film** about first contact with an alien race than by thinking about what that alien race would taste like after being pressure-cooked and seasoned with olive oil, garlic, and pimentón dulce. It's the perfect snack to greet your guests with upon their, uh, arrival.
** Although, yeah, it sort of doesn't make sense in the end. And what was the deal with the Chinese and mah-jongg? They have a written system based on ideograms, and they choose chess pieces?
Manchego by the Brie Cheese Plate
Every party needs a cheese plate, and you don't have to break the bank to provide a delightful selection to your guests as they settle in with their cocktails, not to mention their cocktail conversation about Amy Adams's serious acting chops in Arrival.*** Any well-curated lineup of fine cheeses is bound to be appreciated, but your guests would no doubt be extra impressed if you busted out a soft and creamy baked Brie, or perhaps a bowl of gooey Queso Affleck for them to chow down on, as they ponder just how they shot those crazy-awesome gravity scenes in the heptapod spaceship.
*** Did I mention that Arrival is the only movie I've seen in theaters in the last year?
Learn more about how to make a Manchego by the Brie Cheese Plate »
This isn't a one-for-one Cracker Jack clone, since it uses pecans instead of peanuts and has the added layer of flavor that only brown butter can provide. But the difference will likely stand out to your guests in a good way. Much as the innovative use of the Arrival soundtrack stood out to film reviewers, who were as wowed by the technical aspects of the movie as they were by its deeply humanist themes.
Hidden Fig-or-Asparagus Tartine
Of course, praising one film doesn't necessarily constitute a knock on any other, and your guests will have ample opportunity to consider the finer points of the other great movies that have been nominated for Best Picture this year—only to be confronted with the monolithic excellence of Arrival—as they nibble on a refined tartine or two.
Soup Trevante Rhode(s) Island Clam Chowder
You can't very well offer up a menu in the dead of kind-of-winter without including a soup. Trevante Rhodes, star of the Best Picture–nominated Moonlight, just made the selection easy (although not as easy as the casting choice of Amy Adams—she was made for the part, right?). In any case, the fact that this chowder omits cream entirely will make it light enough to keep your guests from getting all bogged down and food coma–y. Instead, they can relish the unadulterated wonder of pure clammy flavor as they try to untangle Denis Villeneuve's expert interweaving of different timelines in Arrival.
Pasta Uovo in Raviola Davis
Pasta is a good choice any time you have people over, whether it's one course among many or the main event. A whole egg nestled in ricotta and stuffed inside a tender raviolo is a showstopper of a pasta dish, similar to Forest Whitaker's portrayal of the ornery yet ruthlessly efficient US Army Colonel Weber in Arrival. (A discussion point for your guests, after they ooh and ahh as the egg yolk oozes from their pasta: From what great depths does Whitaker draw his accents?)
Shells or High Water
If you want to take a different route with the pasta and do something a little more understated (think less Forest Whitaker and more Michael Stuhlbarg), seafood-stuffed shells may be the way to go. They're still delicious and distinctive enough to hold their own alongside the rest of the menu, but you won't risk distracting from the main courses. The resulting harmony will be not unlike the deftness with which the main themes of love and loss and grief and joy of parenthood were made felt in Arrival, despite the film's overt sci-fi nature.
Mains La La Lamb
A centerpiece roast is the ostentatious belle of the ball at any dinner party, similar to movies about Hollywood and acting and making it big and anything with Emma Stone in it at the Oscars. A boneless leg of lamb seasoned with mint, cumin, and mustard (or a slow-roasted leg of lamb with garlic, rosemary, and lemon, if you don't have a sous vide device) is perfect for a crowd or a smaller gathering. The dirty little secret of every meal, though, is that the things that get lavished with the most attention—your main dishes, your movies clearly designed to appeal to Academy members' basest impulses—are, in retrospect, often the least exciting and least worthy of your attention.
Chicken Ma(he)rs(h)ala Ali
Chicken Ma(he)rs(h)ala Ali is an excellent main for a smaller gathering—quick, easy, and very, very delicious—and it also serves to point out that even some of the most carefully assembled things (menus, movies like Arrival, plans) can sometimes have flaws. Mahershala Ali should probably be in every movie, but this also makes you wonder why he wasn't in Arrival. "What did Jeremy Renner add to the entire film?" some people—many people!—have wondered, and they have received deafening silence in response. Imagine those tender scenes of father and daughter in Arrival, and then just imagine that Mahershala Ali was in all of them instead. While it wouldn't have solved some of the other mysteries about Renner's character (what was he there for, after all?), it still would have been a significant improvement.
Another easy choice, and a hearty complement to almost any meal. The key to the salad is to massage the kale leaves with olive oil, and when we say "massage," we mean you gotta really get in there and be confident with your movements, similar to how Dr. Louise Banks just goes for it when she knows she's gotta take her helmet off to communicate effectively with the aliens. In the end, what makes a salad, or Arrival, successful is the attention paid to those little details.
Something Sweet Bananas Foster Jenkins Trifle
This dessert is ideal for a party, given that the cake component can be made three days ahead and stored at room temperature, while the custard can be made the day before. It's a wee bit complicated, to be sure, but, as Arrival has ably shown, complexity can (and will) be richly rewarded with accolades. And statuettes.