There’s a simple elegance to the starter course of a traditional French dinner party: Bright herbs, rich butter, savory cheese, and tangy vinaigrettes and mustards whet the appetite, inviting guests to enjoy yet another aperitif or glass of Champagne.
Our 13 French appetizer recipes make it easy to whip up dainty hors d’oeuvres, classic bistro starters like steak tartare and escargots, and rustic, regional finger foods such as Niçoise pissaladieres and Alsatian tarte flambée. All you need to worry about is which bottle of wine to open.
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Escargots a la Bourguignonne (Snails in Garlic-Herb Butter)
Provençal Stuffed Squid
Fresh squid of every size, and cuttlefish too, are found at fishmongers throughout Provence. Lulu buys the tiny ones to fry, but chooses medium-size squid to stuff with herbs, chard, and bread crumbs (she prefers chard to spinach under most circumstances). To make things easier, the squid can be prepared in advance and cooked later in the day, roasted, grilled, or braised. Serve warm or at room temperature, drizzled with fruity oil or an anchovy vinaigrette. Get the recipe for Provençal Stuffed Squid » Justin Walker
Duck Pâté en Croûte
Pâté is a labor of love, but it’s worth every step, especially when you bake it in flaky homemade pastry dough and top it with a flavorful gelée. Here, being careful to keep the ingredients cold during the process, and taking the same care when folding and filling the dough, yields a pâté that everyone will write home about. Get the recipe for Duck Pâté en Croûte » Matt Taylor-Gross
Black Olive Tapenade
Tartare de Filet de Boeuf (Steak Tartare)
Deviled Eggs With Crab
Chef Yves Camdeborde assembles these haute deviled eggs—the whites marinated in soy sauce and pomegranate vinegar—à la minute at his stand-up bar L’Avant Comptoir de la Mer in Paris, but you can make the filling up to a day in advance and keep it refrigerated. Be sure to drain the whites immediately after 15 minutes of marinating so they don’t toughen. Get the recipe for Deviled Eggs With Crab » Matt Taylor-Gross
Chicken Liver Pâté
Learn how to make Provence’s chickpea fries, or panisses—they’re one of the best snacks France has to offer. Get the recipe for Panisses » Kate Devine
Made with both smoked and cooked fish for textural contrast, salmon rillettes became a New Year’s staple once I discovered that my husband wasn’t the only non—oyster eater among us. Pack into jars the night before entertaining—the flavors improve with time. Get the recipe for Salmon Rillettes » Christina Holmes
Alsatian Bacon and Onion Tart (Tarte Flambée)
Fromage Blanc Spread (Cervelle de Canut)
This dish, which translates literally to “silk worker’s brain,” is said to be named for Lyon’s 19th-century silk weavers, who’d often make a lunch of the smooth herbed-cheese spread. Chef Boulud’s family used to make it with fresh goat cheese, but fromage blanc works just as well. Serve with salad, potatoes, or toasted bread. Get the recipe for Fromage Blanc Spread (Cervelle de Canut) » Photo: Matt Taylor-Gross