Dining Etiquette Series – Amuse-Bouche

       

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  “Hannibal, confess; what is this divine looking amuse-bouche?”

With recent references to amuse-bouche being linked to Dr. Hannibal Lecter – first with the quote above from the 2002 movie, The Red Dragon, starring Anthony Hopkins, and then as the title of Episode 2 in Hannibal, the creepy new TV series that debuted in April on NBC – one could get the wrong idea about this little delight.  But don’t worry; I’m fairly confident that the delectable amuse-bouche pictured above was not prepared by Dr. Lecter!

Amuse-Bouche (uh-MYUZ-boosh), which in French means “to amuse, entertain, or distract the mouth,” is a surprise gift from the chef that is presented at the beginning of the meal or between dinner courses. It was introduced during the nouvelle cuisine trend of the 1980s and endures to this day.

But, what exactly is amuse-bouche? The term sometimes embraces a broad definition based on international customs. For example, one restaurant might equate amuse-bouche with an hors d’oeuvre to be served during the cocktail hour, while another might consider it to be an appetizer to be served before the first course. However, amuse-bouche is not really an hors d’oeuvre and it’s usually smaller than an appetizer. More commonly, amuse-bouche is a tiny one- or two-bite delight that is offered at high-end and trendy restaurants to showcase the chef’s talents and specialties, and usually appears just before the main course.  And because amuse-bouche is an unexpected treat and complimentary addition to the meal, it is rarely if ever listed on the menu.

Depending on the restaurant and chef, the amuse-bouche could be as simple as a minuscule scoop of exotic-flavored sorbet with a stylish garnish. In the picture at the top, the amuse-bouche consists of two kinds of anchovies and an olive.

But, many chefs prefer to create original, imaginative and artistic miniature dishes aimed at producing oohs and ahs from diners. Frequently, there are ongoing – and it is hoped friendly – competitions among chefs at well-known establishments to prepare the most memorable amuse-bouche for their patrons. Turning out the most inspired and delicious amuse-bouche can be a status symbol.

Following are some examples of amuse-bouches created by three of the chefs on the popular ABC-TV show, The Chew:

  • Carla Hall: Mini Arancini with mushroom in a spicy remoulade, presented at an event at Bloomingdale’s Department Store in New York City
  • Mario Batali: Burrata de Puglia, little spirals of mozzarella packed with basil leaves, sundried tomato and olives drizzled with sharp, green virgin olive oil, at his restaurant, Osteria Mozza,in Los Angeles
  • Michael Symon: Prosciutto di parma on a cheese puff topped with dijon creme fraiche and pickled onions, at his restaurant, Lola, in Cleveland

These are just a few examples; there are many more surprising and delightful amuse-bouche creations to discover.

Your amuse-bouche may be eaten with a spoon, fork or your fingers, depending on its consistency; and the required utensil will accompany your tiny treat. Sometimes a wine pairing will be included for additional enjoyment and enhancement.

Knowing about amuse-bouche will increase your formal dining sophistication, confidence and enjoyment just a little bit more.

Until next time,

Jeanne

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