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Culinary Waves: The canapé is in a class of its own

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Culinary Waves: by Chef Mary Beth Lawton Johnson

To a yacht chef, no dinner party is complete without passed appetizers, from skewers to food shooters, dips and chips, wraps – and canapés. When a principle asks for appetizers on board, is a canapé the first thing you think of? What exactly is a canapé?

Canapés are a type of hors d’oeuvre that typically uses pastry, bread or toast as a base to seat bite-size food atop to be passed out as finger food at a party. The French definition, stemming from the French word for couch, describes them as bite-size morsels of food, no more than two bites, housed atop bread, as though sitting on a couch. Typically, they have five parts to them: base, spread, topping, garnish and glaze. That’s the standard textbook definition.

With modern cooking techniques comes modern cuisine, and the traditional five components are being challenged. The days of rolled smoked salmon and cream cheese are over. Now it is a journey into eclectic edible ideas using cooking techniques such as sous vide, dehydration and nitrogen.

Nevertheless, there are several rules of thumb for making canapés that remain very important: A canapé must be small in size, pack huge amounts of flavor, have multiple components, and fit with the theme  of the meal.

A canapé should convey the flavors of the meal to come, but also stand alone.

It should be easily picked up by its base, and it must be bite-size. There should be no need for a fork or knife, which would be cumbersome when standing at a party or dinner get-together.

Canapés should have myriad layers of flavor packed into one or two bites.  

They should be easy to make and then put on a platter and served.

They are to be picked up by their base, so the base must be sturdy to hold up to any kind of liquid, soft spreads and toppings, but still be small enough to fit into a mouth in one or two bites.

The finish of the canapé must be smooth, and no amount of food should stick to the hands. No one wants a glaze stuck on their hands when picking up a canapé.

While other hor d’ouerves might only have one aspect to them, a canapé has many, whether old school or new.

So what’s new today on the scene of canapés? Exciting news for yacht chefs.  Today’s canapé has turned into fashionable bites that represent upscale, unbelievable ventures into food.

London’s most expensive and unique canapés were recently featured on the website Tatler.com. Many were designed for fashion runways, and several caught my eye. One was made of Oestra Caviar fashioned into a golden ring. Another was what appeared to be a glazed cherry, but it was, in fact, venison hand-shaped into a cherry, then glazed.

Canapés are now entering the realm of jellies – from gummy bears hand-sculpted and filled with flavors to verrines and shooters. Some canapés are shaped like jewelry.

The Fish and Chips canapé features edible wrappings such as rice “newspaper” with a microchip of sea bass.  Another type of canapé is called an Amuse Bouche’s. These are typically served in restaurants as a freebie, and you don’t really have a choice as to what you get.

 Over the years on board, I have shopped at various professional chef suppliers looking for molds, acetate, piping bags, tips, etc. to assist with items that require precision in the galley, such as canapés. I recommend checking out the website JB Prince.com, which offers a selection of professional cookbooks to assist with appetizers and hor d’ouerves, as well as other tools that you might need on board.

Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine, and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years. Comments are welcome below.

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About Chef Mary Beth LawtonJohnson

Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years.

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