Ask Peter: Finger food
As end of year parties, exhibitions, and so on happen at this time of year, could you please do a column on finger food? It is difficult to find good recipes that don’t take ages to make and they have to be transported and still looking and tasting good after an opening of art or whatever. Often there is nowhere to heat things up and too frequently it ends up soggy. I hope you are able to help. Caryl Ginever, President, Waikato Society of Potters.
In many ways good finger food is like good picnic food in that it is usually cold (especially in the cases you mention above) and usually savoury. However, at a picnic you’ll be able to sit a plate on your lap or on the picnic blanket and use cutlery. At an event it’s impossible to use cutlery while holding the plate and a glass, and therein lies the problem.
Crostini topped with various manner of things are a favourite “go to” of mine — whether the croutons be made from bagel rounds (deliciously chewy), rectangular slices of focaccia or toasted wedges of sourdough. As long as the bread has been brushed with a little oil and then baked in the oven until golden and crispy, it’ll support even moist toppings without crumbling and falling apart. Don’t slice it too thick though as it can be jaw-breaking and the last thing you need is to have the toppings flying around the room and over your guests’ clothes. To make it more tasty you can mix dried chilli flakes or fresh herbs into the oil before brushing it on.
Toppings can be made or bought — for the latter I’d suggest some of the delicious Lisa’s range of hummus and the various pestos available. Some strips of Beehive’s shaved champagne ham, or prosciutto or salami, or some smoked chicken will kick it up a notch too. Cheese and tapenade, yoghurt, smoked fish and sumac, mashed avocado and sweet chilli sauce — all will be tasty.
A vegetable tortilla or frittata cut into pieces and topped with aioli, tapenade, or mayonnaise into which you’ve mixed lots of fresh herbs and garlic will also work well. If you’re making your own frittata, try adding some bacon lardons, smoked kahawai flakes, diced chorizo or even chopped artichokes from a jar. Kumara works well in a frittata, in place of some or all of the potato.
Fish cakes are surprisingly delicious served at room temperature. You could make them Thai style: puree fish flesh with aromatics (ginger, garlic, lemongrass), a dollop of Thai curry paste, some fish sauce and cornflour. These are delicious pan-fried and then served with a dollop of creme fraîche or sour cream and sweet chilli sauce.
For the British version of fish cakes, mix poached flaked fish with mashed potatoes and fresh herbs. Coat in flour, then egg wash and breadcrumbs, and bake or deep fry. Top these with mayonnaise mixed with a few drops of Tabasco-style sauce, chopped capers and tarragon.
Sushi is a great finger food, but unless you’re well versed in cooking the rice correctly you might be better to buy it pre-made — as long as you know you’ll be getting it as fresh as can be. Raw fish ika mata (Cook Islands-style, marinated in coconut milk and lemon juice) is a delicious canape but can be a little messy unless you serve it on Chinese-style spoons which will hold some of the liquid and stop it running all over your platter.
Thinly sliced cold meats such as salami, prosciutto and even smoked turkey or duck breast are great — and the best ways to serve them are on a crostini or rolled around a filling. Suitable fillings would be a baton of cheese for salami, a wedge of peach or pear for prosciutto and nashi, melon or asparagus in smoked poultry.
Asparagus makes a great canape — snap off the woody ends, then either blanch or grill the spears, chill, then serve in abundance on a platter with a bowl of dip or two in the centre. The dip could be mayonnaise or sour cream whipped up with chopped sushi ginger, pesto mixed into Greek yoghurt or a bowl of dukkah.
For more party food ideas, go to our Party bites collection.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.