Chefs Share Tips and Recipes for Hosting Brunch

 English Pea Deviled Eggs at Hawks Provisions + Public House. Photo by Debbie Cunningham
English Pea Deviled Eggs at Hawks Provisions + Public House. Photo by Debbie Cunningham

Let’s Brunch About It

There’s something about spring, with its mild temperatures, Easter eggs, and blooming flowers that makes us want to linger on patios with friends, cold beverages in hand, and savor weekend brunch.

Whatever your brunch tastes, you’ll find useful ideas in the following pages, where chefs from Sacramento to El Dorado share their cookery tips and creative approaches for elevated takes on breakfast classics.

Superb Sippers

Of course, any brunch party should include a classic brunch beverage to make it a festive occasion. Here are some ideas for taking your day drink from ordinary to extraordinary.

Sparkling Mimosas with Seasonal Purées

If you’re trying to impress guests as they arrive, welcome them to your sparkling mimosa bar. Springtime is on the cusp of fresh strawberries, blood oranges, and stone fruits, such as apricots and cherries. Executive chef/owner of Bacon & Butter Billy Zoellin serves a variety of seasonal mimosas at his restaurant located in Sacramento.

Zoellin says it’s simple to spice up your mimosas by washing your favorite ripe fruit and tossing it into a blender with a little sugar. After blending until smooth, strain out any seeds or pulp with a mesh sieve (if you’re using raspberries, for example). Your guests will enjoy the sweet, full flavor of your homemade fruit purées — served in a flute glass with some sparkling wine or Champagne. Want a spicy kick? Throw in a de-seeded jalapeño for a savory twist.

He also suggests adding herbs, which change the aroma and appearance of a mimosa.

“You can go a lot of places with just the addition of an aromatic or something of a different color,” he says.

Chef Billy Zoellin

Zoellin’s aromatic go-tos include what’s in season, first and foremost, but one of his favorites is mint, a versatile drink accompaniment, as well as fresh basil and sage, or a thyme and blackberry flavor combo.

“Sometimes, just the smell of thyme in your mimosa changes your entire experience,” he says. “That’s what food’s about — creating that experience.”

Big-Time Bloody Marys

When you’re at brunch, a good Bloody Mary can be a full meal, with its various pickled accents and, if you’re lucky, a crisp slice of bacon. But if you happen to take a drive up to Gold Country, a Bloody Mary at Poor Red’s Bar-B-Q in El Dorado is a super-sized experience garnished with some of the most head-turning toppings in the Greater Sacramento region.

Dedicated fans of this popular morning pick-me-up look forward to when executive chef Dean Hiatt and crew get creative with their Bloody Mary specials. Standouts include the Corn Dog Bloody, Crawfish Boil Bloody, and even the Buffalo Chicken Slider Bloody — all examples of what a roadhouse can do with comfort foods and creativity.

 Jessica Camara at Poor Red's Bar-B-Q in El Dorado serves this outrageous Bloody Mary featuring a kabob of skewered meats. Photo by Rachel Valley
Jessica Camara at Poor Red’s Bar-B-Q in El Dorado serves this outrageous Bloody Mary featuring a kabob of skewered meats. Photo by Rachel Valley

Inspired by Hiatt and the Poor Red’s crew? You and your guests can create sensational Bloody Marys too. Have your guests build their own with such tasty additions as bacon, speared fresh vegetables, or pickled garnishes such as green beans or asparagus, and even pickled eggs. But whether you top your beverage with breakfast sliders or seasonal veggies, a delicious Bloody Mary starts with quality ingredients to build a solid base of flavor. Chef Hiatt shares some staples that go into Poor Red’s signature Bloody Mary.

“I like to only use Campbell’s Tomato Juice for our signature drink. Then the rest is up to you,” Hiatt says. “Atomic or Beaver horseradish is the way to go. Don’t cheap out on that detail.”

The exact recipe is a coveted secret, for good reason. However, Hiatt recommends trying these ingredients:

  • Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce
  • Garlic powder
  • Freshly cracked black pepper or white pepper (white adds a more floral note)
  • Juice from pepperoncini peppers
  • Your favorite hot sauce (Cholula, Tapatio, Sriracha, etc.)
  • Onion powder
  • Granulated garlic
  • Kosher salt

Divine Dishes

One of the secrets to a successful brunch party at home is to strike the perfect balance between savory and sweet, to satisfy cravings that may lean more toward breakfast or lunch. Here, our sources share suggestions to take your brunch to the next level.

A Devil of an Egg

Spring is the perfect time to plan a brunch for the whole family, and what better bite-sized snack to include on your spread than the humble deviled egg? It’s one of Molly Hawks’ favorites when she’s hosting at home and often is featured at her Sacramento-based restaurant Hawks Provisions + Public House.

“We typically have deviled eggs on the menu, and we change them up through the seasons,” Hawks says. “Through the fall, we’ll do a miso deviled egg with a diced apple garnish. In the summer, with all the beautiful herbs, we might do a little tomato and basil with our deviled eggs. It’s a good way to express the season.” For this spring, Hawks shares an English pea variation of the egg classic.

Deviled eggs are a staple brunch food that can easily lead to a lot of creative variations. For example, Zoellin suggests whipping avocado into the yolks. He also likes to whip the yolk with cream so it’s lighter.

“Then keep it simple with a little Tabasco, celery salt, a little paprika, and pepper,” he says, adding, “Here’s the trick: Fried capers on top is what does it for me. It’s a crispy, salty, nutty flavor that comes through in the caper. It’s not anything like a fresh caper. There’s an entirely different flavor profile and texture when you fry them.”

 Deviled eggs topped with crispy fried capers at Bacon & Butter in Sacramento. Photo by Raoul Ortega
Deviled eggs topped with crispy fried capers at Bacon & Butter in Sacramento. Photo by Raoul Ortega

All fancy toppings aside, if your bright yellow yolks are overcooked with a hint of green, no one’s going to enjoy them. Follow chef Zoellin’s egg-vice for the perfect hard-boiled eggs, every time:

  • Gently lower your eggs into boiling water with about 1 tablespoon of salt and ¼ cup distilled white vinegar for about 7 minutes for large eggs; time can vary by egg size.
  • Throw an extra egg into the boiling pot of water to use as a tester. “I crack one and make sure I’m at the spot I want,” he says. “Seven and a half minutes typically yields the product I’m looking for.”
  • Immediately, place your hard-boiled eggs into a bowl of ice water until cooled.
  • Now it’s time to peel! This is where cooking them with vinegar and salt come in handy; they permeate the shells and make them easier to peel. Once the eggs are cooled, crack and peel them in water. “Let that water help you separate that membrane from the eggshell,” he says, explaining that one of the trickiest parts of hard-boiling an egg is peeling it.
  • Be sure to keep your deviled eggs chilled as they sit out on your table spread.

A Twist on Quiche

Quiche is a staple on many brunch menus. Hawks shares, “Sometimes, if we’re doing brunch at home, we’ll do a quiche in a rimmed baking sheet so it’s a thinner layer. You can cut them into nice little squares. It’s just a little easier to pick up and eat them, and to display. Bite-sized pieces are also nice when you have a lot of different items in your spread.”

CAPTION: Sheet-pan quiche Lorraine from Hawks Provisions + Public House. Photo by Debbie Cunningham
Sheet-pan quiche Lorraine from Hawks Provisions + Public House. Photo by Debbie Cunningham

Griddled Greats

At Poor Red’s, chef Hiatt elevates a classic breakfast-for-dinner dish with his Old-Fashioned Chicken and Waffles special. Hiatt’s version is a symphony of flavors, starting with a homemade, orange-zested and candied-pecan Belgian waffle. It’s topped with a toasted, mesquite-smoked rosemary compound butter, and buttermilk-and Cajun-marinated fried chicken, then finished with a Bulleit Rye Whiskey maple syrup.

You can’t pull Hiatt out of your pantry to whip up an order of his Old-Fashioned Chicken and Waffles, but home cooks can get creative with seasonal citrus to zest up waffle batter or chop your favorite nut to add a crunchy texture and an extra layer of flavor.

 Old Fashioned Chicken and Waffles at Poor Red’s. Photo by Rachel Valley
Old Fashioned Chicken and Waffles at Poor Red’s. Photo by Rachel Valley

Hawks says waffles are a versatile food that guests, especially children, can make their own with fun toppings such as vanilla whipped cream, chocolate hazelnut spreads, stone fruit, berries, and even infused maple syrups.

“For Easter brunch, we’ll do strawberries for [the kids],” she says. “Then they can put on all the fun toppings to go with it.”

The classic pancake is just as versatile as its griddle cousin, the waffle — dare we say, even more so? Sprinkle on toppings or cook them in the batter. Try adding sliced bananas or blueberries (or even some of the fresh fruit purée made for the mimosas) to dial up this traditional classic. Don’t stop with the sweets; add in the savory elements, too, such as chives, cheese, and ham or smoked salmon with a schmear of cream cheese, bagel style. At Bacon & Butter, Zoellin serves up a stack topped with fresh citrus, sweet mascarpone, and a sprinkle of poppy seeds. Pick your favorite nuts or seeds and throw some on, or in. Pancakes have no limits.

Citrus Poppy Seed Flapjacks from Bacon & Butter. Photo by Raoul Ortega
Citrus Poppy Seed Flapjacks from Bacon & Butter. Photo by Raoul Ortega

When you’re hosting brunch, the last thing you want to have to do is prep everything, on top of cleaning all the pots and pans and, of course, cooking before guests arrive. As the host, you want to enjoy everyone’s company as much as possible.

“Being prepared is probably one of the biggest keys for entertaining so that it’s not such an overwhelming task in the morning,” Zoellin says. “For your sides, do a little prep the day before or even a couple of days before.”

To avoid getting stuck in the kitchen frying bacon or peeling potatoes, follow these quick-prep tips from Zoellin to keep the party going:

  • Serving pancakes or waffles? Make your batter the day before and store it in the refrigerator so it’s ready to go.
  • If making a large scramble, crack your eggs and pre-scramble them the day prior, then store them in an airtight container.
  • Blanch your potatoes in some water, garlic, and onions. Then store them in the fridge to cool so you can sauté, crisp, and evenly cook them the following day.

Bakin’ Your Bacon

One of the tricks many chefs rely on is baking their bacon. Not only does it free up burner space, but it’s easier to clean up too. Chef Hiatt suggests letting the oven do all the work, freeing you up so you don’t have to hover in the kitchen.

“Turn your oven to 425 degrees F, take your cookie tray, put your parchment paper down, put a wire grate over it, line your bacon on top, and then just bake it until you get it to where you want it,” he says. “There’s less mess so less cleanup.”

“Baking your bacon in the oven ahead of time and just par-baking it [for a few minutes] so that it’s not fully cooked is another good tip,” Zoellin says. “Then pull it out as you need it, and throw it in the frying pan until it gets crispy.”

With these tricks up your sleeve, you’re sure to have a smashing spring brunch! Enjoy!