28 Cocktail Party Appetizers to Balance the Booze

  03 Jan 2019

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[Photographs: Emily and Matt Clifton, Vicky Wasik]

You might think that the most important part of a cocktail party is the booze, and with "cocktail" right there in the name, we can't say you're wrong. But we would argue that the snacks are just as important, because as any responsible host knows, you need to make sure your guests have enough food to soak up all the alcohol. While chips and salsa might suffice for a mundane gathering, for a holiday celebration you should think bigger, better. From pâté made with chicken liver or cauliflower to baked brie and the ultimate shrimp cocktail, we've got all the recipes you need to throw the most delicious cocktail party possible.

For Omnivores

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

I live the life of a humble food blogger, so foie gras pâté probably won't make an appearance at my next cocktail party. Fortunately, chicken liver pâté is much more affordable and still delicious. Our autumnal take on the dish is flavored with bourbon and apple cider and topped with cranberry gelée.

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

A throwback to cocktail parties of a different era, these beef and pork meatballs are flavored with onion, white pepper, and allspice. Part of the charm of Swedish meatballs is their dense, springy texture, which you can achieve by mixing the meat more forcefully than we would typically recommend for meatballs.

[Photograph: Emily and Matt Clifton]

This updated take on the cocktail meatball also starts with a mix of beef and pork, but gets an Asian twist from garlic, ginger, and Hoisin sauce. When the meatballs come out of the oven we brush them with a glaze made from hoisin, ketchup, vinegar, honey, soy sauce, and sesame oil and sprinkle on scallions and sesame seeds.

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

You can't go wrong serving a crudité platter with classics like and , but for something a little more interesting, try this intensely savory dip made with walnuts, ground pork, and miso paste. The flavor depends heavily on what miso you use—standard red miso is fine, but I prefer funky soybean miso.

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

My number one secret to throwing a successful party is doing as much work ahead of time as possible. Our take on clams casino can be prepped a day in advance, making it perfect for entertaining. The dish often winds up gritty and bland, but we avoid those problems by using coarse bread crumbs toasted in bacon fat and a flavorful bacon-clam compound butter.

[Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt]

Our are total crowd-pleasers, but I honestly get a little bored with them sometimes. Fortunately we have plenty of variations to mix things up, from a briny version topped with fried capers to a salmon-garnished deviled egg-everything bagel mashup.

[Photograph: Lauren Rothman]

The hardest part about getting these crostini right is finding good ricotta—if you aren't lucky to live near a dairy that makes it, you'll either need to look for a stabilizer-free brand like Calabro or . Once you've got the cheese, all that's left is to braise the leeks in chicken stock and layer everything together.

[Photograph: Morgan Eisenberg]

Don't be offended if this is the only party snack your friends request from now on. There are few things better than cheese wrapped in slices of bacon, and the figs and bourbon caramel glaze offset each bite's sharp saltiness.

[Photograph: Morgan Eisenberg]

A simple marinade with fresh herbs is all you need to make grilled chicken exciting. These grilled chicken skewers combine sweet, savory, and tangy flavors from a mixture of Dijon mustard, lemon juice, honey, and tarragon.

For Pescatarians

[Photograph: Daniel Gritzer]

Properly made shrimp cocktail is one of the best cocktail party hors d'oeuvres around, but all too often the dish is ruined by rubbery supermarket shrimp. Doing shrimp cocktail justice means poaching the shellfish gently in a court bouillon so that they become flavorful and tender. As for the cocktail sauce itself, we stick to the classic combination of ketchup and jarred horseradish.

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

is probably the meat most closely associated with rillettes, but for a party I'm more likely to go with salmon because it feels extra fancy while being incredibly easy to prepare. There's no slow-cooking involved—just poach the salmon, shred it, and mix with mayo, shallots, and chives.

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

I love cured salmon, but it can get pricey. When I want to treat myself, then, I turn to gravlax—since it's easy enough to make at home I don't have to pay for someone else's labor. The fish isn't cheap, but two pounds will serve a dozen people. To turn the fillet into gravlax all you need is salt, sugar, caraway, coriander, and a few days to let it all cure in the fridge.

[Photograph: Emily and Matt Clifton]

Another way to save a few bucks preparing for a party is to make shrimp cakes rather than the more common crab cakes. Shrimp works with all sorts of flavors—here we look to Thailand for inspiration and make the cakes with jalapeños, garlic, and enough cilantro to turn them vibrantly green.

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

Your friends probably don't cook octopus for their cocktail parties, so serving pulpo gallego is sure to put you ahead of the pack. This Galician tapas dish seems impressive but is actually incredibly simple—either boiling or pressuring cooking the octopus will tenderize it, and from there you just have to slice it up and garnish with olive oil, salt, and Spanish smoked paprika.

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

Despite the dish's , modern tapenade is all about the olives. The ingredient list is pretty simple: Niçoise olives, garlic, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, capers, and anchovies. The trick is in how you combine them—a food processor works, but a mortar and pestle will give the spread much better flavor and texture.

[Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt]

I don't know of any country on earth that respects canned food like Spain does. Far from survival rations, Spanish canned goods are often delicacies. This tapas recipe combines two of them, stuffing piquillo peppers with bonito tuna and serving them on baguette slices with allioli.

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

Bagna càuda is a potent dip made from warm olive oil loaded with tons of garlic and anchovies, all cooked together until melted down. Paired with a beautiful vegetable platter, it's the ultimate dip.

For Vegetarians

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

This vegetarian pâté gets its meaty flavor and texture from roasted cauliflower, which we cook with pecans and purée. You can make the recipe vegan by using vegetable broth and oil instead of cream and butter, but it won't have quite the same silky pâté texture.

[Photograph: Morgan Eisenberg]

A ball of cheese sounds like a wonderful thing, but if you've ever been burned by an unappetizing cheese ball made with industrial pre-shredded cheddar you might be a little hesitant. Don't worry, through—our versions are made with high-quality blue cheese, goat cheese, and feta.

[Photograph: Emily and Matt Clifton]

You could do a lot worse than serving a plain old log of chevre with crackers, but even better is to take the cheese and marinate it in olive oil with flavorful ingredients like garlic, thyme, fennel seed, and lemon peel. You don't have to use the very best olive oil here, but do know that the oil's flavor is going to come through in the finished dish.

[Photograph: Emily and Matt Clifton]

In the spirit of taking a cheese that's tasty on its own and making it even better, consider serving baked brie at your party. While you could keep it relatively simple and top a wheel of baked brie with , wrapping the brie in puff pastry before baking makes for a more impressive centerpiece. This recipe pairs the brie with fig jam and fresh thyme, but you may want to also check out our version made with a .

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

Yes, it really is possible to enjoy bruschetta in December—the classic is of course a no-go this time of year, but you can prepare this oven-roasted version made with canned tomatoes instead. It's not bruschetta without the bread, so serve the spread with .

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

Does the idea of garlicky cold mashed potatoes appeal to you? No? Well you should give skordalia a try anyways, because I think you'll be surprised by how much you love this tangy dip. It's best served with pita, and unless you can get the good stuff from a local bakery then I'd recommend .

[Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt]

This dish calls for just four ingredients, including salt and oil. You start with Padrón peppers, blister them in canola oil in a blazingly hot skillet, and finish with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of coarse sea salt. About one in ten Padrón peppers is super spicy, which makes this part appetizer and part parlor game.

[Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt]

The ingredient list here looks a little more intimidating, but once everything is together the dish only takes five minutes to prepare—it's just a matter of heating everything up long enough to incorporate all the flavors. You won't want to lose any of the sauce, so serve this with crusty bread to soak up every last drop.

[Photographs: Kristin Donnelly]

Most likely, the spinach dip you're familiar with is chock-full of sour cream, mayonnaise, cream cheese, maybe even parmesan. We love that iconic dip, but it doesn't do the vegans among us much good. So we've created a version that relies on a creamy, blended mixture of cashews and cauliflower instead. It's packed with flavor, and doesn't sacrifice any of the original creamy texture.

[Photograph: Morgan Eisenberg]

These fries are inspired by the flavor of hummus. The batter calls for chickpea flour, which, when fried, results in crisp-shelled fries with creamy interiors. A spicy tahini dip cuts through each rich bite.

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

These toasts are equal parts easy and delicious. Crisped slices of sourdough are topped with burrata and grated ripe tomatoes, then drizzled with a creamy, bright, herbal pesto.

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