An Evening with Boardwalk Empire: Shrimp and Horseradish Canapes

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Appetizer. Tapas. Amuse-bouche. Finger foods. All describe the canape. Pronounced "can-a-pay," it's a little bite of usually savory and salty heaven given during cocktail parties or as appetizers. An import from France, the practice became popular in England and America as well, and during the 1920s we saw a surge of the canape as the preferred appetizer of choice for most American restaurants and within the home.

The rules are simple: a small piece of bread, cracker, or puff pastry cut into a shape (even squares count) that are toasted or fried, then topped with a savory cream or spread of some type, and then decoratively garnished. The idea is to have a small, one-bite composed item that easily fits in your hand that can be popped in your mouth. The idea is to compliment the cocktails -- you got a cocktail in one hand, move to pick up a canape with the other and goes directly in your mouth in one bite. No need for napkins, forks or knives, or anything at all.

The canape can be as complicated or simple as you desire. You can use brioche bread cut into a flower pattern, toasted, topped with creme fraiche and expensive caviar and lemon zest. Or you can have a slice of cucumber topped with cream cheese and fresh dill. It's an extremely versatile appetizer and cocktail party food stuff that can suit any budge, any theme, and any restriction. I'm a huge fan of the canape.

I used smaller, 19-25 count shrim for their sweetness and perfect fit on the toasts.
1920s America saw a big push for the canape in the foods served both at restaurants and at home, predictable the ones at restaurants being fancier and requiring more skill to prepare. For the Boardwalk Empire season premiere, I decided to make two kind of canapes -- one fancier and one more "homely" to demonstrate the versatility of the dish. This posting will showcase a fancier version, inspired straight out of a newspaper cutting from 1921 using shrimp as the fancy pants ingredient. The result was simple and absolutely delicious, and I was struck by how easy they were to eat.

Despite the now-plebeian ingredients of shrimp and sour cream, these can be quite the elegant appetizer to entertain with even today. Shrimp is boiled in water flavored with lemon and bay leaf, then sliced in half. Rich sour cream is combined with spicy fresh horseradish and scallion, then spread on toasted white bread rounds. The preparation is simple but clean and elegant, and the flavors are strong without being overpowering. This is classic elegance perfect for any episode with a class of champagne, or fancy enough to serve at a cocktail or dinner party for guests. Be sure to recycle this one for your holiday and new year's party in a few months as well!

Shrimp Canapes with Horseradish Cream and Chives
1 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined and tails removed
2 lemons, cut in half
1 bay leaf
1 loaf white bread (I used regular sandwich bread for this)
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted or non-stick spray such as PAM
1 cup sour cream (can also use creme fraiche if feeling particularly fancy)
2-3 Tbsp freshly grated horseradish to taste* or bottled horseradish, drained
dash of Sriracha hot sauce (or your favorite)
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp fresh scallions or chives, very finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Using a 1 1/2-inch round cutter, cut rounds from each slice of bread. Place the rounds on a sheet pan and brush both sides with the butter. Toast in the oven until golden brown, about 5-10 minutes. Watch it so the bread doesn't burn! Remove from broiler and set aside.

Add cold water to a pot large enough to hold all the shrimp. Add the lemons and bay leaf to the water, and bring to a boil. Prepare a medium sized bowl with ice and water for the ice bath. Once boiling, add the shrimp to the boiling water and cook until they turn bright orange and are firm, about 2-3 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon directly into the ice bath to stop the cooking process. Once cool enough to handle, slice each shrimp in half lengthwise and set aside. You can do this step up to a day in advance; simply cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble canapes.

Combine the sour cream, horseradish, sriracha, and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl. This can be also done a day in advance, covered well and refrigerated until ready to assemble the canapes.

The addition of the sriracha adds a beautiful pale pink hue to the cream when mixed in. I love this because not only does it add a pop of flavor, but it also compliments the natural pink-color of the shrimp, making for a very pretty presentation.

To assemble, simply spread some of the sour cream spread on each slice of bread and then top with 1 shrimp. Garnish with chives, set on platter and serve.

*Note: if using fresh horseradish, it's most potent after you've freshly grated it; the longer it sits, the more it will lose its potency so it's better to prepare the spread right before serving if using fresh horseradish.

These are best if assembled right before guests arrive. You can boil the shrimp and make the sauce a day in advance, then toast the bread before guests arrive. I personally like the contrast of the warm bread with the cold cream and shrimp, but you can certainly toast the bread even an hour or two before. They can stay at room temperature for about an hour before they get a little soggy.

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