What is a Canapé?

What's a canapé? Why do I have to have them? And when is a canapé not a canapé?

The French define canapés as petites bouchées, which translated simply means ‘little bites’ or ‘little mouthfuls’ but there isn’t an English version of the word canapé, a ‘bite’ or a ‘nibble’ simply doesn’t do it justice so, the prevalence of French culinary tradition being what it is, we use canapé. With that definition in mind though, one has to ask what is, and isn’t then, a canapé?!

Lets start with what do they do and why we need them. They whet the appetite; it’s as simple as that and one whets one’s appetite as one whets a blade on a stone – post canapés appetites are sharpened up and ready to go.

No one ever went from being hungry to not hungry because of a few canapés but the sense of hunger will dissipate a little temporarily in anticipation of what’s to come now the food has begun.

Ask any chef for canapé suggestions and you will (or should) be showered with ideas that sound dainty, delicious, enticing and colourful. The canapé need never be dull. Be it colour, variety, or a special flavour or texture, any range suggested should be based upon real crowd-pleasing favourites.

If choosing three or four for all or your guests (a good amount that will give a little variety over the hour or two of your reception), you want most people to like most of the canapés most of the time. Don’t be too hard on yourself or unrealistic though, you really can’t please all the people all the time so judgement by instinct is fine. Ham’s and prosciutto, smoked salmon, shellfish and cheeses rule the roost and rightly so, they all provide an excellent base from which you or your chef can add extras and touches to raise the game to impress your guests but don’t for one moment think that’s all there is to it. The very act of miniaturising can create delightful intensity from the simplest of flavours; parsley mousse on a quails egg or apple granita over ham hock allow you to take very simple everyday combinations that become an explosion of flavour… and all of that form one petit bouchée.

So back to the original questions: these delightful, dainty, colourful, delicious little bites whet the appetite and if they’re not delightful, dainty, colourful, and delicious, the, they’re really not canapés at all. We’ll call those ones nibbles…