Hors d’oeuvres 101

Hors d’oeuvres 101

Learn all the basics about hors d’oeuvres.

Have you ever wondered ‘what are hors d’oeuvres?’ This post covers the basics about hors d’oeuvres, and how they differ from appetizers. Plus, you’ll learn about some cold and hot hors d’oeuvres ideas, and how to serve up hors d’oeuvres at your next party.

Today we’re starting a new series all about hors d’oeuvres! Whether you’re planning a cocktail party, wedding, hosting a fancy dinner, or just want to be a little bit fancy, hors d’oeuvres are the perfect answer! We’re kicking off this series by learning about what hors d’oeuvres are, as well as the “rules” for preparing them. Plus, you’ll learn the most common types of hors d’oeuvres. Don’t forget to check out the recipes that go along with this series (more recipes coming soon!):


What are hors d’oeuvres?

The term ‘hors d’oeuvres‘, which is a French word, translates to “outside the work.” Meaning, back in the day, the restaurant service staff used to prepare these small bits of food for guests to enjoy while the kitchen staff prepared the hot meal. While that’s not really the case in today’s world, we still use the term hors d’oeuvres to refer to small, bite appetizers.

There are no hard and fast rules about hors d’oeuvres – feel free to use your imagination. However, there are some general guidelines for preparing hors d’oeuvres:

  • Think small, bite-sized food

  • Always make sure they’re visually appealing

  • Flavor is key, but the hors d’oeuvres shouldn’t be overpowering

  • The flavor should complement whatever foods will follow, but try not to repeat flavors

You might be wondering what’s the difference between hors d’oeuvres vs appetizers. While there is very little difference nowadays, technically appetizers are served as the first course (introduction to a meal), while hors d’oeuvres are served to whet an appetite (before the meal).

upclose grilled peach crostini

Cold Hors d’oeuvres

There are five types of cold hors d’oeuvres that are generally known:

  • Canapés: Mini, open-faced sandwiches. Typically, they are constructed from a base (bread, cucumber, endive, mussel, etc.), a spread (flavored butter, cream cheese, etc.) and garnishes. Check out this canapé recipe.

  • Crudités: A raw or slightly blanched vegetable served as an hors d’oeuvre. Some commonly used vegetables include broccoli, carrots, celery, cauliflower, and radishes.

  • Dips: Whether hot or cold, dips are typically served with crudités, crackers, toasts, or chips. Check out this dip recipe.

  • Caviar: The salted roe (eggs) of the sturgeon fish. Often considered a very premium hors d’oeuvre, the most common types include beluga (most expensive), osetra, sevruga, and pressed caviar.

  • Sushi & Sashimi: Sushi is raw or cooked fish/shellfish rolled on seasoned rice. Sashimi is raw fish eaten without rice. And just so you know, in Japan, sushi (zushi) refers only to the flavored rice. Check out this sushi recipe.

Hot hors d’oeuvres

Hot hors d’oeuvres are not as easy to define as cold ones. However, here are some common examples:

  1. Small Skewers (brochettes): Meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or veggies on a skewer. Typically they are marinated, then baked, grilled, or broiled, and served with a side sauce for dipping.

  2. Meatballs: Made from ground beef, veal, pork, or poultry and served with a sauce.

  3. Wrapped Hors d’oeuvres: A piece of savory meat or roasted veggies wrapped around a complementary or contrasting slice of fruit or vegetable.

  4. Filled Dough: This category encompasses phyllo dough, savory pie crust, or puff pastry dough. Typically they are stuffed with a variety of fillings, both meat and veggie based.

How Should I Serve Hors d’oeuvres?

The first thing you’ll need to do when you plan on serving hors d’oeuvres is to create a menu. Make sure to plan an assortment of hors d’oeuvres that have contrasting flavors, textures, and styles. You’ll want a mix of both cold and hot bites.

When it comes to plating and serving hors d’oeuvres, you have a few options. For a fancy cocktail party or a wedding, you may prefer passed hors d’oeuvres. These are hors d’oeuvres presented on trays and passed by a waiter or waitress. Remember to make passed hors d’oeuvres bite-sized and in a utensil or dish they can easily be eaten from.

Another way to serve hors d’oeuvres is in a buffet style. You could have one large buffet table, or several smaller buffet tables. Presentation is everything with a buffet. It’s important to think through the colors, flavors, and textures that are placed next to each other.

With buffets, hot hors d’oeuvres can be served in equipment to keep them warm. Cold hors d’oeuvres, on the other hand, can be displayed on platters, in baskets, or on trays. Whatever you do, just remember to make your display visually pleasing. That’s part of the fun of eating hors d’oeuvres!



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