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What are Hors d'Oeuvres?

A Hors d'Oeuvre with basil, tomato, cheese and a black olive.
Shrimp canapés.
A plate of hors d'oeuvres.
Meat spreads with crackers may be served as hors d'oeuvres.
Salmon canapés with crème fraîche, caviar and dill.
Cocktail wieners might be served as hors d'oervres.
Tapenade served with a slice of bread, which is often served as an hors d'oeuvre.
Olives.
Broiled, bacon-wrapped scallops.
Crackers used for hors d'oeuvres.
A platter with different kinds of pickles might be served as part of an hors d'oeuvres option.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 05 August 2014
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Hors d'oeuvres are bite-sized foods usually served cold before a main meal to whet the appetite or sustain guests through a long cocktail hour. They are sometimes referred to as appetizers, and usually appear in addition to a main meal, although cocktail parties and receptions sometimes serve them exclusively. The little bites of food can take many forms, from the simple to the elaborate, and most parties feature a wide spread that is designed to entice guests with a variety of tastes and food preferences.

The name is taken from the French, and when translated literally, it means “before the work,” in a reference to the main meal. At a well balanced meal, hors d'oeuvres will not overwhelm diners, but rather provide small and interesting bursts of flavor in the mouth that do not ruin the appetite for the main meal. When they are being served alone at a party, they are sometimes more substantial so that guests do not leave in search of other food. Parties held late at night may also offer appetizers rather than regular dishes, so that guests do not go to sleep weighed down with heavy foods.

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Some common examples include crudites, cheese plates, fruit plates, toasted nuts, tartines with various toppings, small tarts, and stuffed vegetables. Many of these hors d'oeuvres are easy to make, while others require some more preparation. In most cases, they are set on on large platters next to smaller dishes with tongs so that guests can take their own. Generally, the appetizers are eaten with the fingers, although guests who are seated to eat may use utensils. At a dinner party, finger bowls are offered before the meal and again after the hors d'oeuvres so that guests can clean their hands.

A crudite platter is a simple hors d'oeuvre that cooks at all levels of experience can make. Basic crudites consist of a spread of fresh vegetables attractively laid out around a dish of dip or spread. Some crudites use more than one dip, and flavors like roasted bell pepper, goat cheese, anchovies, and curry can all be used in dips for crudites, along with many others. Tartines, also known as canapes, are small pieces of toast topped with ingredients like marinated tuna, anchovy paste, cheeses, and others. Other appetizers include roasted figs stuffed with cheese, fruit wrapped in prosciutto, and other elaborate food constructions.

In addition to carefully constructed hors d'oeuvres, many hosts set out dishes of olives, cheeses and crackers, pates, and stuffed eggs. Guests can drift through the offerings picking up foods that look appealing and taste some new and interesting flavors, as well. The imagination is the only limiter when thinking about food options, and many catering services offer an array of options to hosts who would like to serve adventurous guests.

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Discuss this Article

healthy4life
Post 10

My friend made little hors d'oeuvres using shrimp and tiny pieces of toast. She made this thick lemon garlic sauce to secure the shrimp to the bread, and it was a hit at the party.

She bought some frozen precooked shrimp and steamed it to thaw it out. She put one medium-size shrimp on top of each piece of toast.

These hors d'oeuvres were the first to disappear completely at the party. People were asking for more of them, so she steamed another bag of shrimp and put them together really quickly. It's good when you have hors d'oeuvres that can be made in a pinch, because you never know when you will need more of them.

DylanB
Post 9

@Belted – I absolutely love cocktail sausages! To me, they are best when wrapped in biscuit dough and baked.

I buy prepackaged biscuit dough, and I rip off sections of it large enough to wrap a single sausage. I mash the dough together around the sausage to seal it, and I bake them according to the directions on the can of dough.

These are so satisfying. If anyone at a party is hungry for more than just a snack, they can eat several of these and feel satiated.

shell4life
Post 8

The hors d'oeuvres at Christmas parties usually include really delicious, rich foods like fudge. I enjoy these in moderation, and I always bring a lighter hors d'oeuvre to the party so that there will be a variety of kinds.

I love fresh pineapple, so I chop it into bite-size chunks and stick toothpicks into them. I also bring a bowl of pretzels and low-fat dip.

lighth0se33
Post 7

@dautsun – I always appreciate it when hostesses include veggie trays among the hors d'oeuvre options. I am watching my weight, and I like having the choice to eat healthy even at parties.

My favorites are celery sticks and baby carrots. They aren't messy to hold with your fingers, and you can easily scoop up dip with them. You can eat as many as you want without worrying about packing on the pounds, as long as you go easy on the dip.

JaneAir
Post 6

@betterment - Yeah, I've tried a frozen appetizer or two from the freezer section of the grocery store, and they're usually pretty decent. If you want to get really classy about it, check the freezer section at your local healthy or upscale grocery store. The hors d'oeuvres are bound to be even better from one of those stores!

betterment
Post 5

I know a lot of people like to use a catering company to make hors d'oeuvres for their gatherings. However, I have to say that I think most frozen hors d'oeuvres are just as good as the kind from a catering company.

A good friend of mine had a party recently, and everyone kept complimenting her on how good the food was. During the party, she just said, "Thank you" to all the compliments, but afterwards she confessed to me that the hors d'oeuvres were frozen! She had bought them from our local grocery store and warmed them up before the party. I would never have known if she hadn't told me!

dautsun
Post 4

@starrynight - That's a good point. I also have a hard time not going crazy with hors d'oeuvres. Most of them are so small, you don't really feel like you're eating much. Then all of a sudden, you realize you've eaten a ton of cheese and a whole variety of other things. It's enough to give anyone a stomach ache!

Also, most cocktail parties include drinks, and when you're drinking, it's easy to overeat!

starrynight
Post 3

I really enjoy light cocktail party hors d'oeuvres, like a cheese plate or a veggie platter. I've been to a few parties that had a lot of fried and fatty hors d'oeuvres, which are delicious, but bother my stomach if I eat too many. And I can never seem to help myself when the waiters bring those trays around!

backdraft
Post 2
@belted - Mini quiche, I totally agree, those are the best. My wife makes them for almost any function that we have and she has her own recipe.

It is basically a bacon and cheese quiche but smaller. The filling is great and the crust is great and we never have any leftovers after a party.

Belted
Post 1
What are you guys' favorite kinds of hors d'ouevres? I personally love mini quiche but I also like cocktail sausages and veggie platters. When I sit down and think about it there really are not any appetizers that I do not like.

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