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Issue 24 - Bite-size delights

Scotland Magazine Issue 24
January 2006


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Bite-size delights

Canapés have an important role to play at parties, says Sue Lawrence. But keep them simple

Canapés have evolved throughout the last century. From the end of the Victorian and during the Edwardian era, there was a sense of glamour and sophistication at parties, with many culinary influences coming directly from France – or at least from Londonbased Escoffier.

Champagne was a favourite drink of Edward VII and so presumably increased in popularity at court then at social gatherings. And delicacies such as angels and devils on horseback (oysters and chicken livers or prunes wrapped in bacon) – originally served as savouries after dessert – were also proffered with pre-prandial bubbly.

Farmed oysters are not expensive – and, combined with something as simple as a quality sausage, make for the most wonderful canapé.

In the post-war era in the 1920s and early 1930s the cocktail party flourished, with flappers and frivolity going hand in hand. Cocktail food truly came into its own at this time with fish and meat-topped tartlets and toasts – and blinis with caviar for the rich. Canapés were refined and oh-so fashionable.

Then came the austerities of the Second World War and the 1960s with their vol-au-vents, sausage rolls and cheese-and-pineapple on sticks.

True, the prawn cocktail years were memorable – but not for all its creations. Large grapefruit stabbed all over with cubes of cheese and pineapple chunks or pickled onions on sticks were served with advocaat and lemonade. Vol-au-vents were filled with thick, globby chicken sauce from tins; sausage rolls appeared everywhere from Sunday school picnics to drinks parties and weddings.

Finally, at the beginning of the 21st century, it is travel that influences much of our choice of food. We now find Japanese sushi, Thai chicken skewers and Moroccan chermoula prawns on offer with cocktails.

British food thankfully has not been forgotten, however. There are also creative caterers producing dinky little mini fish and chips in tiny cornets made from The Financial Times or mini Yorkshire puddings filled with roast beef.

And, whereas drinks parties throughout the rest of the year invariably precede dinner, a festive drinks party usually precedes yet another drinks party. So, although summer hosts can get away with a bowl of peanuts, the festive party giver has to seriously consider whether or not they want their under-nourished guests to fall over after their third glass.

There is, however, a fine balance between plying your guests with too many delicious titbits – so good they decide to give the next party a miss – and being unseasonably measly with the nibbles, so that you acquire the reputation as a cheapskate.

This is not the time to be too adventurous with the canapés. Simplicity is the key-word, because you too want to be scintillating and flirty, dazzling and amusing.

You do not want to be a frazzled wreck, stuck in the kitchen shredding meat from 12 roast duck, which has still to be enveloped in wonton wrappers and deep-fried.

If you can afford staff, go for broke and order the most elaborate canapés imaginable. If, however, you are both host and provider of drinks and canapés, then keep it simple.


500g sausages, halved (preferably beef, with high meat content) 16-20 oysters

1. Grill the sausages, place on a dish.
2. Open the oysters, place on ice alongside.
3. Eat hot sausage then cold oyster.


Serves 8

Make the pancakes a couple of days in advance if needs be then wrap in foil and reheat in a low oven. If you make them on the day of serving, they are fine cold. Make this size (dessertspoon) for canapés or use a tablespoon to make larger pancakes to serve on plates as a first course.

125g / 4/2oz self-raising flour, sifted 100g / 3/2oz wholemeal self-raising flour
2 large free-range eggs
300ml / 10fl.oz milk
2 heaped tsp horseradish sauce butter, to cook
400g pack of cold-smoked trout
284ml tub of soured cream snipped chives or dill fronds, to garnish

1. Place the flours, eggs, milk and a pinch of salt in a food processor.

2. Add 1 tsp horseradish and process until smooth (or whisk by hand with a balloon whisk.) 3. Place a large heavy-based frying pan (or girdle) on a medium heat and lightly butter the surface, using kitchen paper.

4. When the pan is sufficiently hot (test by dropping a teaspoon of batter onto the surface : it should bubble within 1 minute) drop 1 dessertspoon of batter into the pan and repeat 3 times to make 4 pancakes.

5. After 1-2 minutes you will see bubbles, so that is the sign to flip over. Cook for a further 1 minutes or so, until batter does not ooze out when lightly pressed with your fingers.

6. Remove to a wire rack and cover loosely with tea towel. Continue making the pancakes until the batter is all used up.

7. For the topping, mix the soured cream with the remaining horseradish and some salt and pepper.

8. To serve, spoon some of the cream over each pancake and top with some smoked trout and either chives or dill.


It is imperative to drain frozen or tinned crabmeat thoroughly, otherwise the crab cakes will be too wet and will collapse.

450g crabmeat
1 heaped tbsp red Thai curry paste
1 tbsp Thai fish sauce
3 spring onions, finely chopped
75g fresh breadcrumbs
1 small egg, beaten
sunflower oil, to fry

1. Drain the crabmeat and pat dry thoroughly on kitchen paper.

2. Combine everything together in a bowl and form into about 16 little balls.

3. Place on a kitchen paper-lined plate and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

4. Then heat 3 tbsp oil in a frying pan until very hot. Lightly dust the crab cakes with flour then fry in 2 batches for 3-4 minutes on each side.

Do not move them until 3 minutes or they might stick.

5. Drain on kitchen paper and serve warm.