Amuse-Bouche: Current Culinary Phenomenon
In upscale restaurants around the world – and, nowadays, at home-cooked dinner parties – the amuse-bouche is having a moment. Once the mainstay of French chefs alone, these bite-size hors d’oeuvres aren’t just reserved for fancy restaurants anymore. These tiny bites served just before a meal are a clever way for chefs and amateur cooks alike to show off their skills, welcome their guests, and give a small peek into what is about to come.
Not Just for the French
Amuse-bouche (pronounced amuse boosh), means “to amuse the mouth” in French, and that is exactly what restaurant chefs and home cooks who serve these little bundles of culinary joy are setting out to do. The goal is to entertain guests with a beautiful, bite-size surprise that delights almost all the senses. Amuse-bouches are not to be confused with palate cleansers (also known as intermezzo) as these are served between courses, while amuse-bouches are classically offered before the meal begins to prepare guests for what comes next and to tantalize and stimulate the taste buds.
Amuse-bouches do not appear on a restaurant’s menu, and they therefore cannot be categorized as appetizers either; rather, they are small gifts sent from the cook free of charge, with no decisions necessary on the part of the diners. These surprises are essentially pre-dinner snacks for adults that do not come with the warning, “Be careful, you’ll ruin your appetite!”
A Surprise in Every Bite
Amuse-bouches are invariably creative and almost always a feast for the eye as well as the palate. One bite (which is usually all there is) and guests become filled with excitement and anticipation for what is to come. For chefs and home-based cooks, it is a way to create something extraordinary that utilizes fresh ingredients and that is often a spontaneous representation of their skill and originality. Amuse-bouches are a win-win proposition – the cook gets to have fun, and the guests are treated to a one-of-a-kind thank-you “note” from the kitchen. One world-renowned chef summed it up by saying, “The amuse-bouche is the best way for a great chef to express his or her big ideas in small bites.”
Presentation is Key When Serving Amuse-Bouche
To make an amuse-bouche as eye-catching as possible, home cooks and restaurant chefs invest much effort in presentation, utilizing unusual dishware, such as interesting plates, demitasse or espresso cups, and large Asian-style soup spoons on which rests a mere taste of something amazing. Yes, a piece of heavenly bread and olive tapenade can double as a passable amuse-bouche, but this is really an opportunity to go all out in terms of creativity and innovation, and the more charming and imaginative, the better.
Amuse-bouche has been a thing for at least the last decade, transitioning from an expected bonus at top-notch Michelin-starred restaurants to more down-to-earth eateries and now to private homes. In 2006, The New York Times featured the culinary surprise package in an article entitled, “Tiny Come Ons, Plain and Fancy,” in which author Melissa Clark sums up the phenomenon by saying, “Once the exclusive domain of multi-starred chefs, the amuse-bouche has trickled down to the dining room of a home near you.”
For home cooks, amuse-bouches need not be a big deal. Recipes and suggestions abound on the Internet, and many ideas can be whipped up in a home kitchen in very little time. Resting on a Japanese-style soup spoon, a few tiny cubes of feta cheese and watermelon, or the thinnest slice of gravlax can be a feast for the eyes and mouth. Just as appealing is a cold gazpacho or any soup that is easy on the eyes, served in a shot glass and topped with a sprig of something green for a palate-pleasing opener. With an eye to design and resourcefulness, almost anything edible can be transformed into an amuse-bouche – it’s all a matter of timing and presentation. Your guests will be impressed and the mood will be enhanced by something little that makes a big impact.
A Few Amuse-Bouche Ideas for the Home Cook
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With high-quality ingredients that pack a lot of flavor in every bite, an amuse-bouche can be a simple yet powerful statement that will entertain and, yes, amuse, your guests.
Dried Apricots with Goat Cheese, Almonds, and Rosemary
- 8 whole dried apricots
- 2 tsp spreadable goat cheese
- freshly ground black pepper
- 4 salted and roasted whole almonds, roughly chopped
- 8 fresh rosemary leaves
- Place the apricots on individual serving plates, or on the end of a spoon.
- Top each one with a 1/4 teaspoon scoop of goat cheese and flatten it.
- Grind some pepper over each cheese-covered apricot.
- Sprinkle each bit of goat cheese with 1/8 of the almonds (a pinch more or less), and press on a rosemary leaf as garnish.
Yellow Tomato Gazpacho Shots
Shot glasses full of flavorful soups – hot or cold – are a great amuse-bouche that won’t fill your guests with anything but wonder.
- 1.5 lb. yellow tomatoes, skinned, seeded and roughly chopped
- 5 oz. cucumber, peeled, seeded, roughly chopped
- 1 yellow peppers, seeded and roughly chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 medium white onion, finely chopped
- juice of half a lemon
- 1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 3-4 drops tabasco sauce
- A few basil leaves, roughly torn
- 3 cups chilled vegetable stock
- Place the tomatoes, cucumber, pepper, garlic, onion, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, Tabasco and basil leaves in a large bowl. Stir to combine then cover the bowl and leave the flavors to infuse for at least a couple of hours or, even better, overnight.
- Add the vegetable stock to the above mixture and stir.
- In batches, process or blend the ingredients until smooth.
- To serve, pour the gazpacho into decorative shot glasses and top with thinly slice basil leaves.
Open with Amuse Bouche
If you’re looking for a way to emulate the great restaurant chefs and to experiment with different food combinations that pack a big dose of the “wow” factor, try serving your guests an amuse-bouche at your next dinner party. With a small investment in preparation and presentation, your guests will be appropriately amused and impressed, and you will have created the perfect opener for a fabulous and unforgettable dinner.