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You won't find the phrase "cocktail food" in the dictionary, but everybody knows what it means. Cocktail food is food that's meant to be passed around a room or shared at the table during the early stages of a get-together.
It's food that goes great with beer, wine, and/or mixed drinks. It satisfies the mouth but doesn't kill the appetite. It's what my parents' generation called hors d'oeuvres, but which my generation of chefs have Americanized, inspiring me to call the category by an American name.
I've developed a huge repertoire of cocktail food in the restaurants where I've worked, from the southwestern Tapika, where I first introduced what I call "table-share appetizers" on the menu, to the many steakhouses where I'm the chef today.
I think that cocktail food is very important, not just something to have out when people arrive. To me, cocktail food sets the tone for an evening with microbites that are a little preview of things to come.
This chapter features a cross section of my favorite cocktail food, including vegetarian, fish, poultry, and meat. They all pass my checklist of musts:
* They can be made, at least partially, in advance. When entertaining, anything that can
be done ahead of time gets a gold star next to it because it makes your life easier. All of these recipes receive that extra credit.
* They pack a ton of flavor into a small space. I love cocktail food that demands to be noticed. So I try to fit more flavors in each bite, or on each plate, than you may expect.
* They're drink-friendly. If you're going to call a chapter "Cocktail Food," you better be offering up recipes thatbelong next to a beer, a glass of wine, or a cocktail.
* They're fun to eat. My favorite cocktail foods are the ones that you pick up with your fingers and the ultimate ones are those that get dunked in a sauce on their way to your mouth. There's a lot of dunking here.
VEGETABLE ROLL WITH GINGER-GREEN CHILE SAUCE
serves 4 to 6 (makes 4 rolls, 24 to 32 bite-size pieces)
Make-ahead cocktail food doesn't get much better than this. These rolls don't even ask you to do much cooking: you just turn on the stove for a few seconds to soften up the tortillas. Marinating the raw vegetables in lemon vinaigrette breaks them down and integrates their flavors just as a quick saute would, but with a minimum of oil, so they taste clean and fresh.
I take vegetable rolls in a southwestern direction with flour tortillas. These also call on one of my favorite go-to flavor tricks--flicking an assortment of herbs over the vegetables to create surprising bursts of flavor that vary from bite to bite.
1 carrot, julienned
2 celery stalks, scraped of fibrous exterior and julienned
2 cups very thinly sliced white cabbage (from about 1/3 head cabbage)
1 zucchini, julienned from the skin to the seeds, seeds discarded
1 red bell pepper, very thinly sliced lengthwise
3/4 cup lemon vinaigrette (page 11)
freshly ground black pepper
4 flour tortillas, 10 inches in diameter
1 bunch fresh chives
8 fresh mint leaves
8 fresh cilantro sprigs
8 fresh basil leaves, each torn in half
ginger-green chile sauce (recipe follows)
Put the carrot, celery, cabbage, zucchini, and bell pepper in a bowl. Drizzle with the vinaigrette, season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and toss. Let stand for 15 to 20 minutes at room temperature; during this time, the vegetables will begin to soften and break down.
Transfer the vegetables to a clean bowl, gently squeezing out most of the vinaigrette and juice by hand; you want to remove most of the liquid without crushing the shape out of the vegetables. Discard the liquid.
Warm a tortilla over a gas flame, or in a hot dry skillet set over high heat, until pliable, 20 to 30 seconds. Set aside on a plate and repeat with the remaining tortillas.
Lay 1 tortilla on a work surface and spoon one-quarter of the vegetables in a neat, cigar-shaped column down the center. Scatter one-quarter of the chives, mint, cilantro, and basil randomly over the vegetables. Roll the tortilla tautly around the vegetables, brush some ginger-chile sauce along the edge to "glue" it closed, then finish rolling it. Set the roll, seam side down, on a clean plate.
Repeat with the remaining tortillas, vegetables, and herbs.
The rolls can be made to this point, individually wrapped in plastic wrap, and refrigerated for 3 to 4 hours. Serve them cold or at room temperature.
To serve, cut each roll into 1-inch pieces and arrange the pieces on a large plate or platter. Pour the remaining sauce into a ramekin or small bowl and set in the middle of the platter. Let everyone dip their pieces into the sauce.
GINGER-GREEN CHILE SAUCE
makes 1 1/2 cups
4 ounces peeled fresh ginger
(one 5- to 6-inch-long knob), roughly chopped
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup sliced pickled jalapñeos
1/2 cup mayonnaise
freshly ground black pepper
Put the ginger, lime juice, jalapeños, and 2 tablespoons water in a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in a standing blender. Puree to a paste. Pour the mixture onto a sheet of cheesecloth, roll up the cloth, and squeeze over a small bowl to extract the liquid. Discard the solids. Whisk in the mayonnaise and season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
The sauce can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days.
WHIPPED GARLIC GOAT CHEESE AND SHERRIED TOMATOES ON CHEESE CRISPS
serves 4 to 6 (makes 40 pieces)
These crisps answer the question "How many flavors can fit in the same small space?" Herbs, garlic, goat cheese, sherry vinegar, tomatoes, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese are piled one on top of another. When you pop the crisp in your mouth, the flavors just keep coming--pow, pow, pow--each one complementing all the others. You might want to make double the amount here; people tend to wolf these down.
Cheese crisps usually turn up as perfectly shaped tuilles, but I like to bake all of the Parmigiano-Reggiano together in a sheet and break it up into little abstract pieces. If you don't have a pastry bag, break the crisps into slightly larger pieces and use two teaspoons to apply the cheese and tomatoes, scooping the ingredients up with one teaspoon and pushing them onto the crisps with the other.
2 cups finely grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese (from about 8 ounces cheese)
8 ounces goat cheese, softened at room temperature
1 garlic clove, minced, plus 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh chives
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
4 plum tomatoes, peeled (see note), seeded, and cut into very small dice
2 fresh basil leaves, very thinly sliced
8 fresh chervil sprigs
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Spread the Parmigiano-Reggiano on a nonstick baking sheet and shape into a rectangle about 9 inches wide, 13 inches long, and 1/8 inch thick. Bake until golden brown, approximately 15 minutes. Remove the sheet from the oven and let the cheese cool to room temperature. The cheese will be brittle; break it into small pieces about 1/2 inch across.
The cheese crisps can be made up to 24 hours ahead of time and kept in an airtight container at room temperature.
Put the goat cheese, minced garlic, chives, thyme, rosemary, lemon zest, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in the bowl of a standing mixer and whip until the ingredients are well integrated into a whipped herb cheese. (Or do this in a regular mixing bowl and use a handheld mixer.) Transfer the mixture to a pastry bag fitted with the star tip, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Set aside at room temperature.
The whipped cheese can be covered and refrigerated for up to 24 hours. Let soften at room temperature for about 30 minutes before proceeding.
Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over high heat. Add the sliced garlic and cook until lightly browned, approximately 1 minute. Add the vinegar and tomatoes, stir, then add the basil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and stir again. Cook for another 10 seconds, then remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool. Cover and refrigerate until cold.
The tomato mixture can be refrigerated for up to 2 hours, but no longer. Drain the tomatoes before proceeding.
To serve, pipe some whipped cheese onto each crisp. Top each one with a dollop of sherried tomatoes. Garnish with the chervil and serve.
Note: To Peel Tomatoes
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Fill a large bowl halfway with ice water. Core the tomatoes and slice a shallow X in the skin at the bottom. Add the tomatoes to the boiling water and cook just until the skin begins to pull away at the edges of the X, 15 to 20 seconds, then immediately (you don't want the tomatoes to soften at all), use tongs or a slotted spoon to transfer the tomatoes to the ice water. When cool enough to handle, peel and discard the tomatoes' skin. If it doesn't come right off, use a paring knife to loosen it.
oaky/full-bodied white rosa
ICED JUMBO SHRIMP COCKTAIL WITH HOMEMADE COCKTAIL SAUCE
This shrimp cocktail is a prime example of how much difference a few well-chosen ingredients can make. The fresh garlic and tomatoes in the sauce and the fact that you can doctor it to taste just might make it the best one you've ever had. If you can, make the cocktail sauce a day in advance and chill it in the refrigerator to really maximize the flavors.
1 1/2 pounds jumbo shrimp (about 24 shrimp)
1 cup dry white wine
2 lemons, thinly sliced
4 fresh thyme sprigs
1 head garlic, halved crosswise
6 fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
cocktail sauce (page 173)
Peel the shell from each shrimp, leaving the tail and last segment of shell intact. One by one, lay the shrimp on a clean surface on their sides and slice the back of the shrimp slightly. Rinse the shrimp under cold water to remove any black impurities inside the back of the shrimp. As they are cleaned, gather the shrimp in a bowl; cover and refrigerate until ready to cook.
Pour 2 quarts water into a large, heavy-bottomed pot and add the wine, lemons, thyme, garlic, parsley, 2 tablespoons salt, coriander, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil over high heat. Fill a large bowl with ice water.
When the water boils, add the shrimp and poach until firm and pink, 2 1/2 to 3 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the shrimp to the ice water to stop the cooking quickly. Spread the shrimp out on a baking sheet and pick off and discard any herbs and lemon pieces. Cover the shrimp with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
The shrimp can be prepared to this point and refrigerated for up to 24 hours.
To serve, put a small bowl in the center of a chilled serving platter and surround it with a shallow layer of crushed ice. Pour the cocktail sauce into the bowl and arrange the shrimp on the ice.