The Mind of a Chef: DIY hors d’oeuvres


What kind of food are you thinking up for holiday entertaining this year? Party size boxes of frozen bites from a food club? Rather than racing to the freezer section, I’ll show you how to create hors d’oeuvres from scratch.

In order to succeed in creating hors d’oeuvres like a chef, you must first learn to think like a chef. In the case of hors d’oeuvres, the philosophy of Sherlock Holmes will suit you well: “Remove all possibilities!”

When it comes to creating tasty and attractive hors d’oeuvres you first have to know where you’re going, which opens definite and possible routes to get there.

There are three components of basic hors d’oeuvres. First you have the base, or “vehicle,” such as a cracker on which the rest of the hors d’oeuvre rests. Anything is fair game with the base as long as it is firm, easy to handle and compliments the other flavors.

The second component, the main body, is the interior of the vehicle which contains the dominate flavor, protein or vegetable. The third and final component is accenting flavors, primarily used as a garnish.

Recently I created a wedding menu that captures the culture of two families coming together. A recipe from the bride’s family is kamaboko salad; a Hawaiian dish served at most social engagements that is like the American macaroni salad.

Traditional kamaboko salad is elbow macaroni tossed with kamaboko (a Japanese molded fish paste), peas, celery, egg, sweet relish, green onion and Hellman’s mayonnaise.

Rather than serve kamaboko as a main or side dish, I created an hors d’oeuvre worthy of a wedding.

Kamaboko Pearl Salad on Leaves of Purple Endive

  • 1 box pearl pasta
  • 1/2 lb. lump crab
  • 1/2 box peas, thawed
  • 2 small stalks celery, diced
  • 3/4 cup nappa cabbage, finely chopped
  • 3 to 4 large hard boiled eggs, grated
  • 1/2 cup sweet relish
  • 2 large green onions, minced
  • 3/4 quart of Hellman’s Mayonnaise, or as needed
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Furikake

Cooking Instructions:

Prepare salad with all ingredients except endive and furikake. Then, simply pull apart endive leaves, spoon a good size dollop of salad on the firm end and garnish with crumbled furikake.

Furikake is a healthy and unmistakably Japanese condiment made of ground fish, sesame seeds, seaweed, sugar, salt, egg, powdered miso and vegetables. Traditionally it is sprinkled on top of rice. I chose this condiment as the accenting garnish for my hors d’oeuvre because of its vibrant color and earthy flavors.

I added the nappa cabbage for another layer of texture. Kamaboko is made with Pollack fish, the main ingredient in imitation crab. In order to make the dish more high-end, I substituted lump crab for the kamaboko.

For you food historians, you will find “L’Art de la Cuisine” by Marie Antoine Careme a good read. He is known for his elaborate hors d’oeuvre presentations that earned him the title “King of Chefs and Chef of Kings.” A quote he is known for should give you enough reason to avoid the frozen food section this holiday season: “When we no longer have good cooking in the world, we will have no literature, nor high and sharp intelligence, nor friendly gathering, nor social harmony.”

Steven Hughes graduated from Le Cordon Bleu Pittsburgh in 1994, and has worked with many types of cuisines in chef positions across the country. He is currently the culinary director for the "Mind of a Chef" cooking school at In the Kitchen, located in the Strip District.

Northside Chronicle Town Hall Subscription