How to make canapés that won't bite back

By Denise Phillips, December 22, 2009

This is the time of year when many of us feel the need to entertain work colleagues, parents from school, neighbours and, of course, the family. However, you do not necessarily need to come up with an elaborate menu — entertaining the canapé way is sociable and definitely less challenging on the host/ hostess. And you will not need to spend too much time in the kitchen as most of the preparation is done in advance.

A large number of guests can be accommodated without having to bother with sorting vast quantities of plates, tables or even chairs. And there is less to clear up because canapés are easily hand-held and simply eaten with only a small paper napkin.

A little bit of history on the canapé. The word is French, but is originally derived from the Greek, konopeion, meaning a bed or couch with protective mosquito curtains, and it may have been so named as a reference to the fact that, originally, canapés consisted of a bread base draped or covered with food items.

Now, however, the concept of canapés has grown well beyond a form of toasted bread with a filling and refers to any type of miniature hors d’oeuvres, main course or even dessert.

Here are a few of my few golden rules to follow in order to maximise the impact and success of your creations:

● Canapés need to be bite-sized — designed to be eaten completely in one mouthful so that the flow of conversation is not unnecessarily interrupted.

● Canapés should be cleverly designed, made with fresh, in-season ingredients that combine good flavour and an impressive appearance.

● Never over-fill the plate. It is far better to replenish the dishes when they are empty. Over-crowded trays look cluttered and messy rather than generous.

● From a kosher and special diet point of view, I prefer to have just one style of canapé on a plate. Not only does it prevent fish and meat mixing on the same plate, it also makes it simpler for the hostess/waitress to know what they are serving. There is nothing worse than not knowing what the canapé is made from when a guest asks.

● Keep garnishes simple. Over-decorated food can look unappetising.

● When displaying the canapés, odd numbers look better than even, and diagonal lines are more pleasing to the eye than straight ones.

● Place canapés in neat, evenly-spaced rows to maximise their aesthetic appeal.

● Your canapés need to be a real balance of hot and cold. Make good use of variety with pastry, bread, potato slices and crispy potato skins, and try not to repeat the same ingredients more than once in a menu. Keep an even balance of fried, raw, baked and roasted foods.

● Innovative presentation need not cost the earth and always makes food memorable. Consider embellishing your food with the use of wicker baskets, sushi mats, banana leaves, chopsticks, lemongrass sticks, wooden skewers, slatted wooden trays or even rosemary sticks. I also like to use fresh, edible garnishes as a simple, natural way of displaying the food and for adding colour.

● The quantities and varieties that you will need will vary according to the occasion but as a general rule for a pre-lunch or dinner drinks, allow three to four different canapés per guest.

● For a canapé-only party served in place of a meal, allow 15 pieces per guest and choose either 12-15 different canapés; ideally, miniature starters, miniature main course and miniature dessert recipes.

These little sweetcorn fritters (see recipe above) are flavoured with both fresh and dried coriander and are delicious with drinks or as part of a buffet supper. They freeze well, so make a double batch as a great canapé standby. The fritters are also ideal to serve al fresco when it is warm enough to sit outside before the sun goes down. A cool glass of white wine or fruit Pimm’s work well with this dish.

Recipe: Sweetcorn fritters

Preparation time: 15 minutes.
Cooking time: 15 minutes.
Makes: 20. Will freeze – fritters only.
Cook’s Tip: place the shredded spring onions in iced water for 30 minutes and they will curl up beautifully for garnishing.

● 225g frozen sweetcorn – defrosted
● 20g pack fresh coriander – roughly chopped
● 1 teaspoon ground coriander
● 50g plain flour
● 1 tablespoon crème fraiche or light cream cheese
● 1 large egg
● Salt and freshly ground black pepper
● ½ teaspoon baking powder
● 4 spring onions — finely chopped
● 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
● Topping
● 6 tablespoons crème fraiche or light cream cheese
● 100g smoked salmon trimmings
● 2 spring onions — finely shredded
● Sprigs of fresh coriander
● Dusting of freshly ground black pepper

● Place half the sweetcorn with the fresh and dried coriander in a food processor and blend until roughly chopped.
● Add the egg, flour, baking powder, crème fraiche or cream cheese then season.
● Blend until combined. Stir in the remaining sweetcorn and spring onions.
● Place a little oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Drop tablespoons of batter into the pan and cook in batches for 1-2 minutes on each side.
● Drain on kitchen paper.
● Place the fritters on a serving platter and top each one with a little crème fraiche and smoked salmon.
● To serve: garnish with sprigs of coriander, shredded spring onions and a dusting of black pepper.

Last updated: 3:19pm, December 22 2009