When it comes to planning a cocktail party, the first thing to consider is, of course, the booze. Our drink calculator and guide to cheap—but tasty—liquor should have you covered when it comes to the cocktails themselves. But as a responsible host, you also need to provide your guests with some food to soak up the alcohol. A simple crudité platter would suffice, but the holidays are a time to get a little fancy. To that end, we've collected 17 of our favorite recipes for elegant cocktail party snacks, from chicken liver pâté and salmon rillettes to blistered Padrón peppers and three modern takes on the old-school cheese ball.
Miso, Pork, and Walnut Dip for Vegetables
Looking for something different to serve with a crudité platter? Skip the ranch and try this salty, savory dip made with walnuts, ground pork, and miso paste. Mirin, dashi, and sugar provide some balance, but this is still a dip for people who like big flavors. Widely available red miso is fine, but soybean or barley miso is more interesting.
Juicy and Tender Swedish Meatballs With Rich Gravy
Swedish meatballs are passé enough to be retro-cool, right? Hipness aside, these beef and pork meatballs flavored with onion, white pepper, and allspice are totally delicious. Normally we recommend being gentle with meatballs, but in this case you want to mix the meat pretty thoroughly—you're looking for a dense, springy, toothpick-friendly texture.
Chicken Liver Pâté With Bourbon and Cranberry Gelée
I'd love to serve foie gras pâté at my next cocktail party, but I'm also not made of money. If you're working on a budget, this chicken liver pâté is an excellent alternative. We flavor the pâté with bourbon and apple cider and top it with a festive cranberry gelée. Passing the pâté through a fine mesh strainer makes it luxuriously silky and smooth.
Easy, Ultimate Clams Casino
Forget the gritty, bland clams casino you find in restaurants—this version does the dish right by using coarse bread crumbs toasted in bacon fat and a flavorful bacon-clam compound butter. Even better, all the prep can be done a day in advance to keep your workload to a minimum right before the party.
9 In-Your-Face Deviled Egg Variations
I'm sure your guests will be happy if you serve them traditional deviled eggs, but if you're really out to impress, try serving a few of these creative deviled egg variations instead. My favorites are the deviled eggs "carbonara" with pork fat, pancetta, and Parmesan chips and the simple Thai-inspired version with chilies and fried shallots.
Classic Pulpo Gallego
Pulpo gallego is a beautifully simple Galician tapas dish made by serving sliced octopus with olive oil, salt, and Spanish smoked paprika. Cooking octopus might seem intimidating, but it's really not that hard. It will come out wonderfully tender just by being boiled—using a pressure cooker will speed up the process significantly.
Salmon Rillettes With Chives and Shallots
Rillettes are most commonly made with pork, but for both elegance and ease of preparation you can't beat this salmon version. All you have to do is poach fatty salmon, shred it, then mix it with mayo, cooked shallots, chives, and a few extra seasonings. This is another good make-ahead option—it will keep in the fridge for several days.
Gravlax With Caraway, Coriander, and Mustard-Dill Sauce
Serving homemade gravlax (Scandinavian cured salmon) will wow your guests, but the dish is super easy and relatively affordable. A two-pound salmon fillet will provide hors d'oeuvres for 10-15 people. All you really need to make the dish is time—the salmon cures with salt, sugar, caraway, and coriander for a few days.
Plump and Tender Shrimp Cocktail
Throughout my childhood, my family would show up to holiday parties with sad supermarket shrimp cocktail. Those black trays will always have a place in my heart, but they don't even compare to good shrimp cocktail made with perfectly poached shrimp. The grocery store always did a fine job with the cocktail sauce, though—it's hard to improve on the combination of ketchup and jarred horseradish.
Black Olive Tapenade With Garlic, Capers, and Anchovies
Making a modern, olive-forward tapenade is just a matter of combining Niçoise olives, garlic, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, and a small amount of capers and anchovies. You can do it in a food processor, but it's worth the extra effort to use a mortar and pestle instead. Not so much of an olive fan? Try our traditional tapenade recipe, which uses an equal amount of olives, capers, and fish.
Spanish Tuna-Stuffed Piquillo Peppers (Pimientos del Piquillo Rellenos de Atún)
In the US we tend to think of canned foods are being mostly utilitarian—supplies to keep in the cupboard in case of an emergency. But in Spain canning is an art, and here we combine two canned delicacies—piquillo peppers and bonito tuna—to make an elegant appetizer. Serve the stuffed peppers on baguette slices and top with a garlicky allioli.
Updated Cheese Ball Trio
The classic cheese ball, made with cream cheese and industrial cheddar, leaves a lot to be desired. But the basic idea is good—what (non-vegan) doesn't want a ball of cheese? Here we take the concept and rework it into three updated cheese balls: blue cheese rolled in walnuts and pomegranate seeds, goat cheese rolled in fresh herbs and lemon zest, and feta and sun-dried tomatoes rolled in pine nuts.
Oven-Roasted Tomato Bruschetta
I know what you're thinking: bruschetta in the winter? You certainly shouldn't be making fresh tomato bruschetta in December, but this oven-roasted variation uses canned tomatoes and can be made year-round. Serve the jammy tomato mixture on baguette slices or homemade baguette crackers.
Skordalia (Greek Garlic and Potato Spread)
Essentially super garlicky cold mashed potatoes, this Greek dish makes a for a lovely party dip. We blend up the garlic with white vinegar or lemon juice, which tames its bite while preserving its flavor. If you want to go all out, serve the dip with homemade pita bread.
Spanish-Style Blistered Padrón Peppers (Pimientos de Padrón)
Appetizers don't get much simpler than this—all you need are peppers, salt, canola oil (for cooking), and olive oil (for drizzling). The blistered peppers will add a little excitement to your party through a game of capsaicin roulette—while most Padrón are totally mild, around one in ten have a serious kick.
Warm Spanish-Style Giant Bean Salad With Smoked Paprika and Celery
This dish has a longer ingredient list, but it's still super easy to prepare. Starting with cooked beans keeps the time commitment to a bare minimum—you just have to heat everything long enough to incorporate the tomato paste and soften the garlic. If you're fast with a knife the whole thing can come together in just five minutes.
Ricotta and Braised Leek Crostini
These braised leek crostini are all about the fresh, creamy ricotta. It's hard to find decent ricotta in stores—look for a brand like Calabro with no artificial stabilizers. Alternatively, try your hand at making your own. Fresh basil brightens up the crostini nicely.