Hors d’oeuvres have been a celebration staple since first being introduced in France in the late 17th century. Literally translated from “outside the work”, the modern-day version of hors d’oeuvres grew from their predecessors called entrements, which meant “between servings” and ushered in a new era of small bites.
Although used interchangeably, there is a technically a difference between hors d’oeuvres and appetizers. Bite-sized foods served before a meal that are hot or cold are considered hors d’oeuvres. They tend to be savory, are to be eaten before dinner, and are not usually filling enough to interfere with enjoyment of the meal. Think nuts, crudité, fruits and cheeses. Alternatively, appetizers are supposed to be served at the table before the meal as a starter. Although small in portion size, they are meant to be complimentary to the meal like salads and soups.
More than just an opening act
In today’s catering trends, the formality of what’s an appetizer and what’s an hors d’oeuvres goes out the window. Call them hors d’oeuvres, call them appetizers, either way they can stand on their own at just about any event and have stopped being just a starter.
On trend are “All Appetizer” or “Heavy Hors d’oeuvres” parties. These cocktail party-style events allow for more mingling, interaction and movement. They don’t serve a formal main course, but instead focus on a variety of hors d’oeuvres. Here we’ll share tips on how to host an event that elevates hors d’ oeuvres to the headliner rather than just the opening act.
Sometimes the best things come in small packages. While hors d’oeuvres tend to be small by nature, it’s worth noting that individual portions are the biggest trend to emerge from the pandemic. Think personal charcuterie plates, mini salad cups, soup shooters, jarcuterie, and skewers galore. Another trend, miniature foods are a great way to create an Instagram-worthy menu with lots of visual impact that will give your guests more to talk about. Let your creativity rule as just about any dish can be miniaturized!
Let the food be the bowl
Edible cups are another way to increase the drama and creativity of your heavy hors d’oeuvres event. They can be made from everything from shredded potatoes to wonton wrappers to pastry and can be filled with everything from cheeses to deconstructed sushi to fresh fruit and mouses. Certain foods lend themselves well to being edible vessels in and of themselves. Stuffed mushrooms have been a popular hors d’oeuvre for years because mushrooms serve as a great vessel, with their mild flavor. Same thing with deviled eggs! For dessert, raspberries can be stuffed with a single white chocolate chip for drama and flavor. Another bonus: food that can be consumed without the plate can cut down on waste by removing the need for additional disposable dinnerware or dish washing.
Variety is the key
Think of hors d’oeuvres as a means in which to create an adventurous tasting event where your gusts can sample a wide variety of cuisines foods. Think of your selections as a five-course meal, just without all the fuss.
We recommend including equal proteins of heavy options, along with starches, veggies and fruits — both served hot and cold. You have unlimited choices, so narrow your options by looking at factors like what’s local, when the event occurs, your budget, headcount, and the event theme to determine your selections. Aligning your food with your event helps to create a seamless theme.
Passed hors d’oeuvres
In order to encourage socialization, be sure to include a variety of passed hors d’oeuvres that bring the food right to your guests vs having them break away from conversation to visit the buffet. For passed hors d/oeuvres focus on one-bite wonders and dishes that are easy to consume from a standing position. Think soup shooters, antipasto skewers, shrimp cocktail cups, oysters and bacon wrapped scallops. Selections like Messina’s mini–Beef Wellington Bites, Warm Miniature Muffuletta Sandwiches, Duck on Endive and Salmon Mousse Deviled Eggs are perfect hearty and substantial options. Perfect passed desserts can include mini crème brûlée, or assorted dessert shooters.
Displayed hors d’oeuvres
Now that we’re getting back to some semblance of normalcy post COVID, guests want more than ever to congregate safely. Therefore, utilize different nooks and areas throughout your venues to artfully display food. Spreading the food out helps to avoid lines as well as encourages people to spread out around the venue. Displayed foods is where selections like Messina’s famous raw bar, crawfish cornucopias, and marinated crab claws shine! Colorful fruit, cheeses and tapenade make for ideal displayed apps as well.
Make your own, and chef-attention action stations have been a trend for over a decade. Guests enjoy the opportunity to assemble their dish as they want, or watch as a chef finishes their selection on the griddle right in front of their eyes. Chef-attended stations provided a fun, visual component that’s COVID-safe and satisfying. There’s something much more enticing about a chef searing a crab cake and drizzling house-made aioli over it before handing it to you vs grabbing your own lukewarm crab cake from a tray. Action stations can enhance the overall excitement of your event.
How much to serve
A good rule of thumb when working with your caterer on just how many hors d’oeuvres to choose is as follows: for 10 – 12 guests a minimum of 5 selections, 25 guests a minimum of 9 selections and for 50 guests, a minimum of 13 selections.
Now, how many of each selection should be served? Timing is key here. For an event during mealtime, plan on 12-15 total pieces per guest so that guests’ appetites are satisfied. If the event occurs between standard mealtimes, allocate 8 – 10 pieces per person for nibbling. Finally, for longer parties lasting longer than 4 hours, allocate 2 additional pieces per person, per hour.
Consider the climate
Keep in mind the space available for your event. If inside space is limited, consider utilizing outdoor spaces (weather permitting) to keep guests spread out. Should you decide to place hors d’oeuvres outdoors, be sure to take into account weather conditions and select food options wisely. For warm climates, you won’t want to place temperature-sensitive foods outside. In colder climates, you won’t want to place warm foods outside as they will lose temperature too quickly. And keep in mind the local wildlife, you don’t want nosey blackbirds picking through your appetizers!
Choose the right caterer
At Messina’s, we’ve been passing and displaying appetizers and hors d’oeuvres in New Orleans since 1961. We can help guide you in considering the venue and structure of your event and recommend the perfect appetizer selections to compliment. Whether at home or at one of our beautiful venues, we execute visually and culinarily impressive hors d’oeuvres-heavy events. We are proud to be recognized as 2021 Pick for Best of Weddings for Caterers by the Knot, and Voted Best Caterer by CityBusiness Readers each year from 2017-2021.