Finger foods are, quite literally, any food easily eaten by hand without the need for plates or utensils. While finger foods may be an option during almost any meal or dinner course, they're most often associated with appetizers and party fare. Frequently, finger foods are required during events where seating isn't provided or where guests won't be seated right away, such as fundraisers, social hours or cocktail gatherings.
Italian for "toasted bread," bruschetta can be as simple as lightly toasted rounds of baguette rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil. As finger food, the toasted bread acts as the "plate," holding such toppings as an olive tapanade, hummus, sardines or sweets. Strive for a two-bite portion and avoid runny toppings that might spill. Bruschetta will get soggy if left out too long, especially with wet toppings, so prepare them just before serving.
Filled pastries, egg rolls and phyllo
Another popular category of finger food are those that consist of a meat or vegetable-based filling enclosed within a pastry shell or wrapper. These finger foods include traditional favorites like spanakopita, a Greek spinach and cheese-filled pastry, egg rolls, mini-quiches and pigs in a blanket (bite-size pieces of hot dogs baked inside in crescent rolls). Other ideas include bite-size pizzas, fried dumplings, mini-quesadillas and puff pastries topped with mushrooms, anchovies and thyme. Puff pastry, phyllo dough and wonton wrappers are available in the freezer case at the grocery store.
Skewers are one way to offer more substantial fare that's still, technically, finger food. Small, marinated pieces of chicken, pork, beef, shrimp or vegetables may be stacked upon wooden skewers and then grilled. Guests then slip off bite-size portions to eat while holding the skewer with their other hand. Simplicity is your best strategy when serving skewers as finger food. Keep portions small and remember that drippy or sticky sauces will be messy for standing guests.
Nearly any food, cut into bite-size chunks and impaled upon a toothpick can become finger food. The only requirements are that it's strong enough to hold together (for instance, no flaky fish), edible in a single bite and unikely to drip on guests. Meatballs, shrimp, little sausages, cheese cubes, olives, slices of meat, vegetables and other items all become finger food when planted on a toothpick.
If you want to serve a potentially messy finger food, like grilled shrimp in a garlic and olive oil marinade, place individual portions in a small paper cup with a toothpick embedded in the food item. The guest eats the food with the toothpick and throws out the paper cup. Provide easily accessible receptacles for guests to throw away leftovers.
- "New Best Recipes"; Cooks Illustrated; 2003
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images