Hors d’Oeuvres: Little Bites of Heaven

grilled teriyaki salmon bites

Hors d’Oeuvres: Little Bites of Heaven

a test kitchen dossier

I have learned
To spell hors d’oeuvres,
Which still grates on
Some people’s n’oeuvres.
– Warren Knox

The French phrase hors d’oeuvre (often pluralized as hors d’oeuvres in English) literally means “outside of the work,” and originally referred to an outbuilding not incorporated into the architect’s main design of a house or building. The phrase eventually found its way into the culinary lexicon, meaning appetizers served apart from the main course of a dinner.

Hors d’oeuvres can encompass a wide variety of foods, and range from casual finger foods to elegant nibbles. Their versatility makes them ideal for any kind of event, either as snacks taken at the cocktail hour prior to a seated meal, or as the main menu for a party where the guests won’t be seated. Tapas, dim sum, antipasti, antojitos and appetizers all can fit into the theme of hors d’oeuvres, leaving the menu open to your imagination.

Serving Hors d’Oeuvres
If you read our Cocktail dossier, you know that we prefer to go with hors d’oeuvres parties for the hectic holiday season, and it’s our favorite way to celebrate for New Year’s Eve. We’ve recapped our menu suggestions here so you can craft your menu with the right progression of light to heavy hors d’oeuvres for each “course,” as well as appropriate serving sizes.

If your party is scheduled to take place around the dinner hour, understand that people will probably arrive hungry for dinner. This doesn’t mean you need to feed them dinner, of course, but you should be prepared to serve hors d’oeuvres that are substantial enough to get them through the next couple of hours. There is nothing worse than leaving a party with a hunger pain.

We have an entire collection of recipes to fuel your inspiration (see the links at the end of this dossier), and those can be served along with the crudités and/or a cheese board. Use your imagination and have fun with the creative process.

You can estimate recipe quantities by assuming 4 portions per person for light dishes and 3 portions for heartier fare, provided you also serve other nibbles like crudités and a cheese board. (There really is no reason why you shouldn’t, as they are a snap to put together.) However, if you are truly reluctant to do so, double the portions of hors d’oeuvres per person to be safe. Also, if you have vegetarian guests, be sure to include enough portions to compensate for the other dishes they will not be eating, and/or add more to the crudités and cheese board.

The flow of your cocktail party menu should be as follows:

Crudités/Light Hors d’Oeuvres
Hearty Hors d’Oeuvres
Cheese Board/Dessert Items

Here is an example:

Light hors d’oeuvres:
Crudités with Aoili Garni
Smoked Trout with Horseradish Crème Fraîche on Toast Points
Eggs with Caviar and Salmon Rosettes

Hearty hors d’oeuvres:
Lobster Bisque Shooters
Mini Savory Bites
Grilled Teriyaki Salmon Bites
Grilled Beef with Spicy Satay Dip
Cheese Board (optional)

Dessert items:
Cheese Board
Thai Curry Truffles
Olive Oil Brownies with Toasted Walnuts
Pecan Shortbread
Lavender Pound Cake with Lemon Glaze

The flow of dishes above accounts for two important considerations: (1) early guests have something to nibble until the bulk of the crowd arrives; and (2) hot food can be presented when you have the maximum crowd there, so it can be enjoyed at its peak of temperature and freshness.

We recommend serving the light hors d’oeuvres for the first 20-30 minutes, as most people tend to be “fashionably” late — this is a judgment call you will have to make according to the size of the crowd at that time.

In case you have not yet perused our Entertaining section, our article The Magic of Ambience is full of tips and tricks to set the right mood for your gathering, including lighting, music and table displays.


There are far too many to list here, so simply click through to our full recipe listing. Remember that many of these recipes can be featured as individual servings, so get creative!

Don’t forget to see our Cheese Course dossier for serving your selection of cheeses.

You can serve a variety of beverages for your gathering, so see our Cocktails, Anyone? dossier for your bar setup and our cocktail recipes for drinks. The following articles will also help you in the area of wines:

Sparkling Wines
Wine Selections