Amuse Bouche. Sounds amusing; no doubt hearing me pronounce is certainly worth a giggle. That token, one-bite taster that precedes even the starter or appetizer, the amuse bouche can be an elegant way to begin a meal. At the finest of restaurants—or newbie boutique restaurants smartly making a notable first impression—a server might put an amuse bouche in front of you. Often unordered, a food-wise nod of unexpected promise from the kitchen, these one-bite samplers are meant to tease the palate of the goodness to come.
Wikepedia defines it best: tiny bite-sized morsels served before the hors d’Å“uvre or first course of a meal. These, often accompanied by a proper complementing wine, are served as an excitement of taste buds to both prepare the guest for the meal and to offer a glimpse into the chef’s approach to cooking.
The word is French, literally translated to “mouth amuser” [for bouche = mouth; amuser = to amuse, to please]. The proper plural form is amuses-bouche.
The amuse-bouche as an identifiable course arose during the Nouvelle Cuisine movement, which emphasized smaller, more intensely flavored courses. It is distinguished from other kinds of hors d’Å“uvres by three characteristics. It is small, usually just one or two bites. It is the same for all of the guests at the table. And finally, it is not ordered by anyone; rather it is offered free of charge. The functional role of the amuse-bouche could be met by rather simple offerings–a plate of olives or a crock of tapenade. But the course often becomes a showcase for the artistry and showmanship of the chef as well as oneupmanship among restaurants.
I couldn’t resist, Wikepedia defines it so well.
I always find this question an amusing start to a conversation: ‘what reality tv shows do you watch?’ It is curious what different people watch; I confess, our family impatiently waits week after week to watch Top Chef. It is where I learned the definition of amuse bouche. Some of the competitions or challenges of the reality tv show focused on these dainty, yet power-packed pre-starters that quintessentially reflect the style of a given cook… what would be in your amuse bouche?
I have had a few experiences in restaurants where I have been happily surprised with a tiny, edible gift placed so thoughtfully in front of me. At Harvest Vine in Seattle sometime last summer, simple bites—one bite per patron—of lightly steamed then cooled golden beets, cut in perfect rectangular slivers, were drizzled with olive oil and the best Fleur de Sel. Each bite pierced with its own toothpick, these beets made an impression that still lingers a year later.
A more recent example was at Mona’s, a neighborhood restaurant that I frequent. Always divine food; and this once a teaser in the form of a perfectly ripened, farmer’s market cherry tomato gingerly squatting on a chiffonade of arugula and then, dressed with shards of the finest parmesan and the token drizzle of oil and coarse salt. Only one? Ah, the amusing amuse. It packs a punch.
Cherry Tomato Amuse Bouche
1 cherry tomato per person
1 T chopped arugula or basil per person
1 tsp olive oil per person/amuse bouche
scant pinch coarse salt
pinch Parmesan, preferably shaved, per person
Assemble: place pile of arugula on plate, slice off top and bottom 1/8 of tomato (stem and bottom, the latter just so it will stand upright and not roll around). Place tomato on greens, top with Parmesan, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and serve to an unsuspecting guest or loved one.