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24 Chef Secrets To Making Festive Canapés

Be the host with the most.

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But canapés can be tricky. They're fiddly and involve a lot of prep work. You could just not make them but WHAT IS A PARTY WITHOUT CANAPÉS? NOTHING, I TELL YOU, NOTHING.

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So, we asked chefs Mark Hix and Kevin Gratton of Hix Restaurants for their tips on how to make great, no-fuss canapés:

Instagram: @hixrestaurants

Because bringing your party to the next level is easier than you think with the right know-how.

1. Six canapés per person is a good number to aim for, unless you're serving dinner.

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MH: "If it’s just a canapé party then I would say you want about six pieces per person. But this number also depends how long the party goes on for, i.e., if it’s a very short, hour-long event or something that’s going on all evening.

"We also vary the size of the canapés depending on how hungry people will be. If people are coming expecting to be fed, we’ll make canapés that are two bites rather than one bite."

2. Five to six different canapé options is good for a medium-sized party.

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MH: "It depends on how many people are in the room. If it’s only 10 or so guests, you could do up to five or six different options, because that’s more controllable. Then I’d serve all the options on one tray so you get a nice variation visually.

"It also depends on if you’re serving canapés before dinner or not, as then you don’t want too many canapés that will clash with the dinner menu."

KG: Trying to do too many canapés is a big mistake. It’s better to do two to three really good canapés than six or seven mediocre ones. Less is more.

3. In general, canapés should be only one mouthful.

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KG: "It should be a one-stop shop. A canapé should be one bite, rule of thumb. But you also dictate your canapés both in size and style to your guests."

4. Canapés can be a substitute for a meal.

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MH: "If it’s a substantial party with lots of drinks, we’ll introduce a few miniature dishes, like a mini bowl of risotto with two or three spoonfuls. Then if you’ve got eight or ten decent-size canapés, and you include dessert canapés, it’s like having dinner in snack form really."

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5. Don't spend too much time faffing with canapés. Keep things simple!

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MH: "When people use the word canapé, it automatically conjures up complicated images. But the easier you make it for yourself the better. You don’t need to make anything fancy. Often, I’ll just do a cube of smoked salmon on a skewer, a cube of roast beef with a blob of horseradish, or a cube of watermelon and feta with a mint leaf in between.

"Even something as simple as anchovies on toast will do – good-quality anchovies, lined up on buttered toast. I think the minute you start messing around and handling canapés too much, then it’s time to throw your apron in."

6. It's completely fine to cheat and buy ready-made things from the supermarket.

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MH: "You can cheat on lots of things. You can buy savoury tart cases from the supermarket, and put creamed wild mushrooms inside, or you could make mini shepherd’s pies in them. You can also get good-quality prawn crackers and put a little Asian salad on top. The tart cases can also be sweet – you could put lemon meringue pie in them, for instance. There’s a lot of things you can buy in supermarkets that you can convert into canapés.

"For instance, you can buy hash browns at the supermarket, cut them up, deep-fry them, and serve anything you want on them. We’ve topped ours with smoked salmon, capers, cream cheese and shallots, and it’s all good – no one’s going to complain it’s from the supermarket."

7. If you're stuck or feeling very lazy, you can just buy dim sum from Chinatown.

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MH: "If you’re feeling really lazy, you can go to Chinatown and get some pre-made dim sum. Those always make good canapés. I quite often cheat at home by doing those, and serve them in a big steamer basket. Just pop the dim sum in, steam them, put a little bowl of sauce in the middle of the steamer before serving and Bob’s your uncle."

8. Festive canapés are all about sweet-smelling spices and little touches of luxury.

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KG: "Having a bowl of mulled wine on the go at your party can be nice – nothing smells better when you walk into someone’s house this time of year than the smell of mulled wine wafting through the back door.

"Spiced Christmas chestnuts are great example of this. Then little touches of luxury are very Christmassy. Bit of goose, bit of caviar, bit of smoked salmon. Retro’s always fun at Christmas time too."

To make Christmas chestnuts, mix 20 to 30 peeled chestnuts with 2 tbsp rapeseed oil, 1 tsp ground cumin, 1/3 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/3 tsp paprika, sea salt and black pepper, and 1 tsp caster sugar. Transfer to a baking tray and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, turning them as they are cooking. Leave to cool before serving.

9. Prep as much as you can beforehand.

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KG: "Be prepared. The day before, or a few hours beforehand, prepare as much as you can. Canapés are more time-consuming than anything. If you’re doing canapés for, say, 12 people and you’re doing six types, and four of each, that’s easily 200 moves you’ve got to make, filling up tarts, putting things on sticks, etc. Do as much as you can beforehand."

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10. Always have a few "static" bowls of things like crisps on hand to complement your canapés.

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KG: "It’s really important to have some static things knocking around. For instance, I’d have big bowls of beetroot and parsnip crisps going around the room for guests as they’re arriving so you don’t have to be panicking in the kitchen. You don’t have to be cooking things as they arrive; you can pre-make things to go out immediately."

11. Good-quality ingredients are most important.

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KG: "Don’t attempt to pimp up classic recipes – that’s where a lot of people go wrong. Instead, just always buy the best ingredients. Especially if you’re doing something simple. If you’re doing simple beef or smoked salmon, buy the best-quality stuff you can get your hands on and it makes all the difference."

12. If you want to make your own canapé bases, a clever twist is fried plantain.

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MH: "You can just slice up the plantain, deep-fry them the day before, then all you need to do is make a bit of guacamole to put on top. There are lots of things you can physically buy that are ready-made bases, but if you want to make one, deep-fried plantain is great."

13. Always go the extra mile to make your canapés look beautiful.

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KG: "Canapés have got to look great. If you’re at a dinner party, you’ll have a menu telling you what you’re getting, but that’s not the case with canapés. At canapé parties, people eat with their eyes; you’re going purely on what’s on the tray in front of you. Go the extra mile, even with simple things, to make them look visually beautiful. For instance, if you're making a shepherd’s pie canapé, pipe the mashed potato on top and do a cheesy breadcrumb with chopped parsley on top."

MH: "When you’re doing lots of different canapés to present together, you want them all to be roughly the same size too, so they look uniform. You don’t want two small ones next to one big one that towers over the rest of them."

14. Use interesting trays or cocktail sticks to make canapés look prettier.

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MH: "What you serve things on can be interesting. For instance, I recently bought what I thought was a big mirror, and it turned up much smaller than I thought it would be, so now I use it as a serving tray for canapés. You could go to a tile shop and get some slate tiles. You could use a wine box. You could use a pot lid. Get creative.

"We also use really interesting little sticks in canapés. The minute you put something on a nice stick, it instantly becomes more visually pleasing."

KG: "This canapé is just ham and melon, but I've used a melon baller to create spheres, and put the ham on top with a nice skewer so that guests can see exactly what they're getting."

Wondering what to do with the skewers after you eat the canapé?

MH: "Have a little dish on the tray for used skewers, or a little glass."

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15. Sprinkling herbs or seasoning will also make canapés look ~fancier~.

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KG: "Don’t put any herbs or seasoning on your canapés that don’t need to be there, but if the recipe calls for, e.g., chives, a few sprinkled on top to finish will enhance the look of the canapés. If I’m putting a little chilli in my guacamole, I’ll also sprinkle a bit on top."

16. Vol-au-vents are still acceptable.

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MH: "We go back to some of those retro things now. If you make a really nice filling for a vol-au-vent, there’s nothing wrong with that. I think they just have a bad reputation because in the '70s people used to use terrible leftovers in them.

17. Intensify your flavours to make memorable canapés.

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MH: "Often, you get a canapé and an hour later or the next day you can’t remember what you had. I think a canapé needs to be memorable. And for a memorable canapé it’s all about flavour. If you’re putting one small item in your mouth, it needs to be really tasty. Everything you do, the flavour needs to be intensified because it’s just one mouthful."

18. Aim to get a good contrast on everything: contrast of colours, textures, even temperatures!

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KG: "Always aim for a contrast of everything: colours, flavours, hot, cold, sour, savoury, sweet. Contrast everything. Mark will sometimes say, “That’s a bit of a brown menu.” If your menu’s looking a bit brown, be sure to liven it up with a pop of colour."

The above canapés are potatoes that have been cut in half and baked. The insides are then scooped out, mashed up with some butter and seasoning, put back in the potato shells, and topped with cream cheese, caviar, and chives.

19. Stick to classic flavour combos. Canapés aren't the place to try anything crazy.

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MH: "Stick to classics. You could buy a duck breast, cook it and cube it, and put a little blob of apple puree on each one. We even do a version of cheese and pineapple on sticks, with feta and mint. Or you could use blue cheese for a nice twist."

KG: "Stick to what you know. Nothing more foolish than throwing a party for a group of people and going for a recipe that you’ve never done before."

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20. If you're on a budget, make vegetarian canapés. You don't have to buy expensive foods: Anything can be delicious as long as the ingredients are high quality.

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KG: "If you’re on a budget, generally speaking, vegetarian canapés are a lot cheaper. Chestnuts are pretty cheap to get. Rather than spending hours peeling them and roasting them, do what we do and get good-quality vacuum-packed pre-peeled chestnuts from the supermarket.

"Our baked potato canapés don’t need to be topped with caviar; they can be baked potato with a bit of coronation turkey on top, and a few crushed almonds. Nothing has to be expensive; anything’s delicious as long as you get good ingredients."

21. If someone has dietary requirements, just make all your canapés suitable for them.

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KG: "I’ve been to parties where one of the guests has been gluten-free, and they’ve done, say, 10 parsnip croquettes which are gluten-free, then 50 regular ones. But why not just do them all gluten-free?

"Keep it simple. If someone has a nut allergy, then do all your canapés without nuts, so it’s uncomplicated and you don’t have to worry about it."

A great vegan canapé option is crispy kale hearts. Deep-fry kale hearts until crispy (you can find these in the supermarket), then toss in some sea salt and chilli before serving.

22. Don't bring out all your canapés at once.

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KG: "There’s nothing worse than going to a canapé party where they've just done one of everything – if a guest has two of a certain type of canapé, then any guests that turn up late won’t get any. So you should should always make sure you’re doing a fair few of each type of canapé so they get round the whole room.

"Stagger serving them too. I see it far too often in restaurants where they make the mistake of going, “Right, the guests are here!” and sending out all the canapés at once – but guests never all rock up at once.

"Go out with static, pre-made canapés and crisps at first, then the cold food, then the hot food, then pudding canapés if you’ve got them, so that any latecomers won’t go hungry."

23. Pair your canapés with champagne, or serve a variety of cocktails.

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MH: "It’s good to have a couple of different options. You'll want one long cocktail; vodka and cranberry is quite nice, or we do a West Country version of a Moscow mule, with West Country ginger beer and West Country vodka. You also want a short drink, like a martini.

"An easy way to serve martinis at a party is to get a bottle of vodka or gin, tip a little bit out, put a bit of dry vermouth in the bottle, and then put it in the freezer. Then all you need to do is pour your pre-made martini straight into your chilled martini glasses from the bottle. You can pre-mix negronis too – it’s just one-third vermouth, one-third gin, one-third Campari. There’s a lot of simple cocktails you can pre-mix depending how many guests you’ve got."

KG: "Around party season, I think people always enjoy a glass of champagne or prosecco or something fizzy too. If you want a cocktail version, champagne cocktails are easy enough to make."

24. For dessert canapés, make half the amount of savoury canapés you're serving.

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KG: "For pudding canapés, neutral pre-made tart cases are great. A chocolate mousse is great all year round, piped into a case, with a little cracked honeycomb on top. Mini mince pies are lovely this time of year too. A lot of people don’t go for puddings, so don’t try too hard with them, or make too many. I’d only make half the number of savoury canapés you’re serving."

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