The good thing about sticking close to home this holiday season is reveling in all the comforts — including culinary indulgences and experimentation. Even if you're not able to celebrate in the usual ways (like gathering with friends and family or traveling), you can still use food to keep things feeling festive. And if putting together a decadent meal is part of your plan, you might as well start off with some holiday appetizers that will help set the mood.
Whether your multi-course meal will be a fun solo activity or a part of a virtual get-together you'll be attending, you don't want to skip out on the starters. In fact, sometimes those small, tasty bites can turn out to be the best part of your dining experience. They're something to leisurely graze over while watching holiday movies, chatting with friends, and sipping celebratory cocktails. And who knows? Maybe as a fun new tradition you can make your entire meal out of hors d'oeuvres alone.
No matter what style of dining you're doing this holiday, where better to get inspiration from than some top chefs and restaurateurs? Ahead, find six cozy and comforting appetizers that might just steal the show this season — all suggested by experts of the hospitality business.
Holiday Appetizers: Baked Oysters
"This year, I can’t return Down Under because of COVID, so I’m creating my favorite holiday dishes here in Los Angeles for my friends," explains Australian chef Richard Christensen of Flamingo Estate. "For the past few years, I’ve spent Thanksgiving at the home of my friend Martha Stewart in Bedford — and it’s the closest thing to a family holiday meal I get in America. I’ve treasured those meals, and I love how Martha often has a huge pile of oysters for everyone. If there’s ever been a time to prepare a magnificent spread of oysters for your friends, this year is it." For a little twist, instead of raw oysters with mignonette, try Martha's baked oyster recipe with bacon, breadcrumbs, fresh parsley and lemon, which is even more decadent.
Holiday Appetizers: Chicken Liver Pate
Daniel and Caitlin Cutler of Ronan share that besides the traditional dishes, their holiday dinner always includes crowd-pleasing chicken liver pate. "It’s flavorful enough to stand alone on any cracker or toast you may have in the house, but a nice fruit-based component is always a plus — we like quince around this time of year but apple butter, any berry jam, or honestly even leftover cranberry sauce from Thanksgiving is pretty fire," the couple says.
To create this savory spread, the Cutlers say to start with salt-cured liver. Cook one small onion until tender in sweet wine with garlic, a few black peppercorns, and a sprig of thyme, then leave to chill. In a blender, add four eggs and combine until homogenized. Add cooled onion mixture and blend into a smooth paste. Add the livers on a lower setting and gradually increase the speed, then add one pound of butter cut into in small cubes one by one to ensure a smooth texture. Strain finely, pour into desired containers, and cover with plastic wrap. Bake in a water bath at 200 degrees for 10 to 14 minutes. After they've chilled, you can add a layer of butter or duck fat before chilling overnight.
Holiday Appetizers: Pimento Cheese
Amarys and Jordan Herndon, both chefs at Palm & Pine in New Orleans, stick to this Southern staple — made with cheddar, cream cheese, mayo, and pimentos — for their holiday snacking. “If you put out a bowl of pimento cheese and a pitcher of margaritas, before you know it everyone is gathered in the kitchen and you’ve got someone scrubbing potatoes, while someone else sets the table and they don’t even know how they ended up helping," they explains. "You can [it] make extra fancy by rolling in pecans for a cheese ball."
Holiday Appetizers: Smoked Salmon Crepes
"Smoked salmon crepes are a perfect holiday appetizer," says Calogero Drago, owner and Executive Chef of Celestino Ristorante. Simply whip up a batch of crepes (or blinis — depending on your preferred vehicle), top with crème fraiche, a few capers, smoked salmon, and any herbs you like. Add a squeeze of lemon for extra freshness.
Holiday Appetizers: Arancini
“Our red beet arancini filled with mozzarella cheese and peas is a classic Sicilian delight with a holiday twist," Drago says. "This appetizer always reminds me of my Mamma during the holidays. Growing up she made this every year for the entire family.” Don't have beets? Just opt for a simple recipe with Arborio rice, broth, butter, mozzarella, Parmesan, and bread crumbs.
Holiday Appetizers: Ricotta Crostini
"Crostini Con Ricotta is a decadently delicious family favorite," says Chef Gil Saulnier of Mi Piace. "Made with handmade fresh lemon zest ricotta, extra virgin olive oil, fresh herbs and Fleur de Sel, served with grilled warm ciabatta crostini, this Holiday appetizer is the perfect pre-dinner present!”