We’ve almost made it to the end of the holiday season, folks. There’s just one holiday left to celebrate, and it happens to be my favorite: New Year’s Eve. It’s a time when buying multiple bottles of Champagne isn’t frowned upon, a time for indulgence and celebration without holding back. After all, we’re never going to get to celebrate 2022 again.
But ask me where I’ll be on New Year’s Eve, and I’ll tell you that I firmly believe it’s a holiday that’s meant to be celebrated at home. Will I have loud music blasting at my house until 4 a.m.? No. Will strangers dressed in sequins push me out of the way while I fight to grab a $23 glass of Champagne? No. Will I be forced to spend $100 on a cover to get into a bar that I go to for free two times a month? Absolutely not.
Spending New Year’s Eve at home is the height of luxury. You completely control the setting, from the volume of the music to—most importantly—the menu. And what’s why I think the best place to celebrate New Year’s Eve is in the kitchen.
First, there are the appetizers. If you can get fresh oysters, that’s definitely the move; there’s nothing that feels more luxurious than slurping down some bivalves while you wait for the clock to strike midnight. Shrimp cocktail is also a no-brainer—it feels luxe while requiring very little prep work or cooking chops. The shrimp should be served over the rim of a martini glass with the cocktail sauce inside. I don’t make the rules, I just follow them. Crab legs can be a fun, albeit expensive, addition to the spread. If you choose to go this route, melted butter (preferably spiked with a ridiculous amount of garlic) is essential. And a plate of mortadella might just be the best way to welcome guests to your home.
When it comes to the main course, there are limitless options to choose from. I love cooking a large, inexpensive cut of meat to share with as many people as can fit in my relatively small apartment. Brisket or short ribs are always fun if you have enough time to cook them. For the sides, you’ll want to go for something hearty—is it really New Year’s Eve if your guests don’t leave your house feeling bloated for the first day of their new workout routines?
But honestly, it’s not really about what you cook at all. The joy of spending New Year’s Eve in the kitchen is much more about cultivating a certain atmosphere. The clinking of glasses, the chattering of old and new friends, the sharing of different dishes and, of course, the occasional pop of a sparkling wine bottle opened a bit too enthusiastically: It all sets a tone for the new year, a tone of fun and celebration without the overstimulating debauchery that’s going down at your usual favorite going-out spot. Enjoying New Year’s Eve in the comfort of your own kitchen allows you to enjoy the laid-back atmosphere you want to start the new year with without sacrificing the joy of an extravagant meal.
A few years ago, I never would have guessed that I’d want to turn down one of the most revered celebratory nights of the year to stay home and cook for friends. But I truly believe that a New Year’s Eve spent at home is a great way to reflect on the past year, to envision what we want from the coming year and to surround ourselves with the people who’ve mattered to us the most in the past 12 months. Showing those people love and gratitude with a home-cooked meal is the best celebration I can imagine.
Then, after the clock strikes midnight and you transition from serving your guests Champagne to shots of espresso so they can make their way home before falling asleep, you can do a quick cleanup before giving up and deciding you’ll put the dishes away in the morning. You can crawl into bed and enjoy waking up (relatively) hangover-free the next morning, ready to face a whole new year with excitement and energy rather than a pounding headache.
If you’re the kind of person to whom spending New Year’s Eve at home sounds terribly boring, I totally get where you’re coming from, and I hope you have fun listening to hundreds of people blowing into paper horns at midnight. But as for me? You’ll find me in the kitchen this New Year’s Eve.
Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.