Appetizers are finger foods usually served prior to a meal, or in between mealtimes, and are also called hors d’oeuvres, antipasti, or starters. They may range from the very simple to the very complex, depending on the occasion and the time devoted to making them. Appetizers are a common accompaniment to aperitifs, cocktails served prior to a meal.
At dinners, banquets and the like, appetizers may be served prior to a meal. This is especially common at weddings, when it takes time for the wedding party and guests to get to a reception after the marriage has taken place.
Hors d’oeuvres may also be served at long parties that occur after a regular meal time. A mid-afternoon party where there is no intent to serve dinner, or an evening party that occurs after dinner, may also feature them so that guests can have the opportunity to snack. They’re an especially good idea when guests are consuming alcohol, since they help to cut down on alcohol absorption. Additionally, many restaurants feature a range of finger foods that are ordered just prior to a meal as a first course.
A simple plate of cheese and crackers, chopped vegetables (called crudités) served with dip, or sliced or small fruits can all be considered appetizers. Other popular options include canapés, finger sandwiches, crab cakes or crab puffs, small sausages that can be eaten in a bite or two, and any type of dumplings such as dim sum. The goal is to make the food easy to handle with just a napkin, and easy to eat in one to two bites. This way guests can continue to visit, dance, chat or mingle without needing to be encumbered by plates.
When people are choosing appetizers to serve, they should think about foods that will go well together, but vary in flavor and taste appeal. For example, perhaps a host would like to serve grilled jumbo shrimp. This is a great choice, but some guests may be allergic to seafood or shellfish. In addition to the shrimp, the host should consider other foods, such as stuffed mushroom caps, a nice cheese plate, and fruits and vegetables in easily handled sizes.
Because starters are frequently served at large parties, cooks should try to keep foods to which people have common allergies either easily recognizable or off the menu. People who choose to serve a shellfish appetizer should not disguise it, and they should make sure the shellfish doesn’t come into contact with other food being served. Hosts should also avoid common allergens like peanuts, too, and be certain that, if they do serve them, they are kept in a separate bowl or serving dish.
It is appropriate for hosts to serve both hot and cold foods, but perfectly fine to serve all of one or the other. People who are planning a long party, if their guests have a long time to wait before eating a meal, should consider that hot food tends to be more satisfying and can stave off hunger pains. Especially if guests are dancing for several hours, they can get very hungry.
Whatever a host plans to serve, he should keep in mind that there are virtually thousands of appetizers to choose from. There are cookbooks devoted to them and many recipes are available online. Cooks can consider imaginative foods they haven’t seen before to delight their guests with new flavors and ideas.