The very opening of the meal, those first tastes as people arrive, is my favorite moment. In France we call this moment the “apéritif” or, more colloquially, the “apéro” though technically this refers just to the drink. The food is called “amuse bouche” or amuse the mouth. And this is just what the whole experience does, in addition to bringing people together, it allows them to shake off their day, and creates an experience.
You Know the Moment – Restaurant
You know this moment. It’s when you sit down at a restaurant and while you’re perusing the menu, a server presents you with a plate of delicacies to nibble on. They amuse your mouth.
Invited by Friends
You’re invited to friends for cocktails or a glass of wine and what is served with them? Mouth amusers.
Dinner for Family
You make a dinner for your family and to appease its starving members you set out a few …appetizer/amuses bouche. It works, keeps people happy, and lowers the decibel level.
Amuse Bouche as High Art
The French have taken this moment to a high art, in that often an invitation goes out for an “apéro dinatoire” which means, appetizers as dinners. This is great for a large group, but what I like best is to serve an abundant and lively bunch of appetizers, which act as first course too, heading after that right to the table for the plat du jour!
To create my amuse bouche/apéritif, I think about what yummy little delicacy is in season, what textures will go together, what flavors will complement each other. Here in France, I also think about vegetables, because for very many years I welcomed groups to my home for meals and they were almost universally starving for something bright, fresh, and crunchy. Not only that, but vegetables come with their own vibrant colors and textures to liven things up.
I always include a delicious air-cured sausage, or some pate, or rillettes – something substantial that satisfies a hearty appetite. Cheese is also a possibility, which would then preclude the cheese course if you’re going ahead with a meal. And because I’m a nut fan, nuts in some form are always present.
So, when you plan your amuse-bouches, go wild with color! Taste! Flavor! Use your imagination, make your life simple by serving things – like fresh peas – as is. They act like a siren call to empty hands who take, twist, and catch the peas to put in the mouth. When they reveal their sweet, green flavor, well, the rush is on!
What to Drink
And once you’ve decided what you’re going to serve, think about what you’ll serve to drink. Now, rosé is the perfect accompaniment because it too sings of freshness and seasonality, summer holidays and get-togethers. But remember – the wine you choose will be the wine you love and the perfect choice for what you are serving. Do keep in mind that an easy quaffing wine is best for things like raw vegetables. And enjoy the appetizer moment – it’s the best!