Christmas and New Year round the corner spells increased activity in the cocktail party arena. Love them to bits, as where else can you imbibe in free flowing bubbly and cocktails? But badly designed canapés can be a danger zone. Thoughtless hors d’oeuvres
As pretty and delectable as they are, I find from experience they are largely not given to elegant eating – which to me is absolutely essential in ensuring the comfort of your guests and the success of the soiree.
There are certain considerations which are often forgotten: for guests, the cocktail party is almost always a stand-up affair, with one hand balancing a glass, and the other hand left to do all else that’s required, including shaking hands and exchanging business cards. Also, everyone’s trying to look their best and the last thing you want to be seen doing – especially while trying to make a good impression with potential clients – is struggling unsuccessfully to bite through a too-large morsel of sashimi or tearing at gristly beef (in itself a no-no!) with your fingers because the beef just won’t cut through.
Sometime ago, having taken a thoughtlessly large canapé, I realised too late that it was
1) too big to be eating in one mouthful,
2) unlikely to be bitten through and tackled in two mouthfuls because either
a) the towering pile of diced topping would likely fall onto the floor or
b) smear across my face as I try to manipulate it into my mouth, making me look like a cud chewing cow.
There was no plate to be seen, and I was engaged with another guest whom I had just met. What would you have done? Rightly or wrongly, I decided the only way was stuff it into my mouth. Without sharing much further details, suffice to say it was a dicey decision, and one which left me looking like an idiot, chewing away as my companion politely and embarrassingly looked on and waited. So after this long preamble, for which I thank you for your patience, here’s my personal rules for designing canapés.
1. Make them small, please. If canapés are made small enough to be eaten in one mouthful – with some space left in the mouth for comfortable mastication – it will solve most of these party problems.
2. Fine showers alert. Make sure they are not too crumbly. You really don’t want guests showering their clothes and faces with crumbs at every bite – particularly if party is al fresco and there’s a bit of a breeze going on.
3. No teetering foods. Tall foods piled high are pretty, make for better photos, and look enticing. But please make sure they are not too unstable. It’s kinda sad to see the topping fall off when someone’s trying to eat it….like an ice cream falling off the cone.
4. Ensure a clean bite. Stay away from overly chewy, or hard-to-bite-through foods like long slivers of beef (unless they are meltingly tender), squid and octopus, large mochi, and the like. Large salad leaves is, to me, a no-no for canapés too – it’s almost impossible to fold them into your mouth in one smooth sweep which means you need your fingers to help out, or hope your mouth opens as wide as a train tunnel so you can swallow it all.
5. No booby-trapped ingredients. This includes anything with squid ink or black sesame either whole or ground, as they could easily stain or get stuck between your teeth. Also, anything that may burst and squirt out soup or gravy, like xiao long bao or Fuzhou fishballs which are stuffed with pork and which would ooze juices when steamed – unless, once again, they can be eaten in one mouthful, which then means it should be comfortable warm, not ‘tongue-scaldingly’ hot.
6. Finally, provide suitable hardware. If you are providing plates, please add a clip-on wine glass holder. In these stand-up affairs, once your two hands are engaged holding a plate and a wine glass….what then? Lap up your wine? Oh, and how will we be reaching for the little fork?
Hence, when it’s time for the next cocktail party, I’ll skip the canapés and focus on the drink and conversation, or exercise clearheaded discretion in accepting canapés. Makes life easier.