Classic canapés for party people
Drinks parties can be tricky for the home cook. Over the years I’ve done loads of them in restaurants, galleries and event spaces, for anything between 10 people and 10,000, and sometimes with as many chefs as guests. But at home the good host wants to enjoy her own party, and not direct a mob of cooks with complex equipment.
Classic canapé recipes often call for last-minute attention to detail so I’ve put together recipes that will work well for a party at home and still allow you to enjoy the event, simply drifting through the kitchen every now and then to pull another tray of delicious snacks from the oven.
Prepare well in advance, then stand back and be ready for the plaudits that are sure to be coming your way. A provincial French classic, these are basically confit pork belly. They’re perfect for canapés as you preserve them in their own fat so you can keep them in the fridge for the whole of the festive period, ready to be reheated when guests arrive.
Serves 10 1.5kg/3½lb kg pork belly (the thick end), skin removed, ribs removed, cut into 3cm cubes 50g/2oz sea salt ½ bunch thyme 75g/3oz lard 250ml/8½fl oz dry white wine 4 bay leaves, peeled 6 garlic cloves 1 tbsp peppercorns 2 tbsp sugar Mustard, to serve
The day before cooking (or ideally three days before), toss the pork belly cubes with the salt and a couple of thyme sprigs, cover, and refrigerate for at least 12 hours.
The following day, preheat the oven to 140C/275F/gas 1. Rinse the salt and thyme from the pork under a cold tap and dry with kitchen paper.
Heat a large frying pan over a high heat, and add the lard. When it has melted and is very hot, very carefully add the pork, fat-side down and fry on all sides until golden brown all over. Turn the heat down if the fat starts burning.
Transfer to a large baking dish and spread the pork out in one layer. Pour over the wine and add the remaining thyme, bay, garlic cloves, peppercorns and sugar. Pour over the remaining fat in the frying pan. Cover with foil and place in the oven for 1½ hours. If the pork isn’t soft yet, return to the oven for another 30 minutes. Once tender, remove the pork, drain most of the fat and leave the pork to cool in the remaining fat. At this point, you can keep the rillons in their fat in the fridge for up to three weeks.
When you’re ready to serve, preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6. Place the pork cubes on a baking tray smothered with a couple of tablespoons of the fat and place at the top of the oven for 8–10 minutes, until the pork is sizzling and crisp. Serve with sea salt and mustard. These can be kept raw in the freezer, ready for when people turn up. Puff pastry is fine too if you don’t want the faff of filo. They’ll just be slightly less delicate.
Serves 10 Filling: 1 tbsp butter 1 small onion, finely chopped 250g/9oz spinach, blanched and squeezed dry of water A pinch of Turkish dried chilli (optional) 200g/7oz feta cheese 1 heaped tbsp Greek yogurt beaten with 1 egg Pastry: 1 x 270g/10oz packet filo (puff is fine too) pastry sheets 50g/2oz butter, melted, plus extra for greasing Approx 2 tbsp sesame seeds Approx 1 tbsp nigella seeds 1 egg yolk, beaten with a splash of milk
Prepare the filling first. Melt the butter in a frying pan and fry the onion with a pinch of salt until soft, about seven minutes. Roughly chop the spinach and stir into the onion, along with the chilli flakes if you want.
Take off the heat, and crumble in the feta and stir in the yogurt and egg mixture. Check and adjust the seasoning and leave to cool.
Meanwhile (if cooking immediately) preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Lay out the sheets. Filo comes in different sizes, so you may have to cut it to size. For each börek, you need a double layer of pastry in a rectangular shape approximately 25cm x 10cm. This can be done by folding a piece in half, or laying two sheets one on top of the other. Keep the sheets you’re not using yet under a damp kitchen cloth.
Grease a baking tray with butter. Use a pastry brush to paint the melted butter over the top surface of the pastry and between the two sheets so they stick together. Place a tablespoon of the cooled mix in the bottom left-hand corner of the rectangle in a triangular shape. Fold the lower left-hand corner over the mix to form a triangle. Fold the top left-hand side over and continue folding until the pastry is used up and you have a neat, tight triangle. Place on the baking tray and make the rest of the böreks. When finished, brush the tops with any remaining butter.
If cooking immediately, brush the egg wash lightly over the tops and sprinkle over the sesame seeds and nigella seeds. Place in the oven for 20-25 minutes until golden. Serve warm or at room temperature.
If freezing, skip the previous step. Place in single layers in a plastic container, with greaseproof paper between the layers. There is no need to defrost before cooking, simply egg-wash and scatter with seeds before cooking for 20-30 minutes. Shape the risotto into balls and freeze so all you need to do is coat them and fry them when guests arrive. For a vegetarian version, use vegetable stock and vegetarian Parmesan-style cheese.
Serves 10 1 onion, finely chopped 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped 2 celery sticks, finely chopped 80g/3oz butter 150g/5oz wild mushrooms such as girolle, pied de mouton, trompette de la mort or dried porcini, finely chopped 1l/1¾ pints of boiling chicken stock 300g/10½oz of carnaroli risotto rice 200ml/7fl oz of white wine 100g/3½oz grated Parmesan, plus a little extra to serve 2 handfuls of parsley leaves, finely chopped 2 eggs, beaten
Can-do canapés: clockwise from above, pork rillons; spinach and cheese böreks; Christmas palmiers; wild mushroom arancini