Dining Etiquette Series – The Appetizer Course 2



Civilization has taught us to eat with a fork, but even now if nobody is around we use our fingers. ~ Will Rogers (1879-1935)

The late great Will Rogers would no doubt have appreciated an appetizer served as a formal, or informal, dinner course that he could have eaten with his fingers!

Following are three favorite finger foods that are commonly served as an appetizer course, along with information on how you can expect them to be served. They may all be picked up with your fingers and eaten in one or two bites. After the first bite, lower your hand to just over your plate and rest your forearm on the edge of the table; after you have thoroughly chewed and swallowed the first bite with your mouth closed, you may lift your hand to your mouth and consume the second bite. Sit up straight and don’t bend your body over your plate; instead, lift your hand to your mouth each time, smoothly and gracefully. Be sure to use your napkin to blot your mouth gently and wipe your fingers after each bite. And remember that at any time you feel you need to use your salad fork or knife to catch stray bits you may do so, or just leave them on your plate. Finally, it’s fine to watch how others are handling the finger-food appetizer.


Caviar is a delicacy made from the roe, or salt-cured egg masses, of wild sturgeon caught in the Caspian and Black Seas, both of which are bordered by several countries, including Russia and Iran. The black caviar that comes from the species Beluga, Ossetra and Sevruga is considered by many to be the finest as well as the costliest in the world. Lesser grades of caviar that are tasty but less expensive come from whitefish, lumpfish and salmon. The popular red caviar comes from salmon. However, over-fishing, pollution and other factors have resulted in sturgeon being placed on various endangered species and protected species lists in multiple countries, thereby decreasing supplies.

Purists believe that caviar should be eaten alone, with no accompaniments to challenge its unique taste. However, at a formal, or even informal, dinner party caviar will be served in a variety of fancy and delectable ways. Following are ways in which caviar is served:

  • Caviar is served very cold and should be consumed in small amounts, about one to two teaspoonfuls at one time. This is approximately the amount that will be served in the appetizer course. (Please keep this in mind when helping yourself from a communal bowl.)
  • As an appetizer course, caviar may be served on dry or lightly buttered toast points (triangles) or unsalted, plain crackers with a drop or two of fresh lemon squeezed on top. However, in most upscale dining establishments the presentation is usually a bit fancier, and may include an array of traditional toppings arranged prettily on your plate that include dollops of sour cream, crème fraiche or English clotted cream or double cream; chopped hard-boiled egg; and minced red onion. Your caviar might also be served in mini Russian blinis with some or all of these toppings. Lemon wedges will be included on the side.
  • Caviar by itself should be served in a glass, porcelain or mother-of-pearl bowl over crushed ice to keep it very cold. The accompanying serving utensils should be made of the same materials. Silver and certain other metals, because of metal oxidation, ruin the flavor of caviar.
  • If the caviar is served in a container, simply scoop out a small amount with the utensil provided and place it on your toast point or cracker and add a topping or two. Eat in one or two bites. Repeat once or twice, but no more than four to six crackers worth.
  • For those of legal drinking age, chilled champagne or white wine or the traditional ice cold vodka might be served with your caviar appetizer.

Chicken Liver Pâté 

This is a tasty and elegant appetizer, especially when prepared in creative ways, such as with cognac and fresh white or black truffles or red wine and herbs and served on mini brioche or crackers. This appetizer is usually served intact, but if your pâté is served separately from the crackers, use the spreader provided to spread the pâté on the crackers.

A word about Foie Gras: Pronounced “fwä-grä,” this controversial delicacy is thought by many animal defenders and consumers to be produced by the inhumane method of force-feeding geese and sometimes ducks to enlarge their livers unnaturally. As a result, many countries, states and municipalities have banned the production and/or sale of Foie Gras, and chicken and other poultry livers in which the birds are not force fed, are preferred by many. Foie Gras is also pricier than other liver pâtés. When served Foie Gras specifically, or any other food that you do not eat for any reason — including health, moral or otherwise — you may politely decline it. However, carry your protest to the producers, media, government or private institutions, but not to the host! At least, do not bring up the subject at the dinner party, and later only if the host is a close friend or family member, and then in a friendly manner.   

Mini Bruschetta

Mini bruschetta (pronounced  broo-SKEH-tah) make a delightful appetizer. Bruschetta is a centuries-old Italian dish whose name means “to burn” or “to toast.” Traditionally, it’s made with crusty bread with olive oil, garlic and various toppings and herbs, such as chopped tomato, basil and oregano. It’s as versatile as pizza and reminds me of a slightly fancier version that can be fashioned into glorious appetizers fit for a course in either a formal or informal dinner.

To facilitate eating mini bruschetta with your fingers, they should not be as messy as the regular large bruschetta, but more along the lines of the picture at the top of this entry. Four to six of these tiny delights will be moistened with olive oil, topped with a tomato, cheese or other mixture and garnishes and served warm.

There are other elegant finger appetizers that may be served as a course, or during the cocktail hour, including crostini with various toppings, savory tarts and Gravad Lax on mini pumpernickel or rye breads.

Until next time,


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