More whimsical than hors d'oeuvres, smaller than an appetizer and served earlier than a palate cleanser, the amuse bouche is a course all of its own. It’s just a morsel, often served in a tiny cup or spoon that is as attractive as it is scrumptious. It is served as a greeting and free gift from the chef to give you an idea as to their style of cooking.
Literally translated as “mouth amuser”, it is meant to please the palate, whet the appetite and acknowledge patronage by paying attention to your hungry tum before you’ve even ordered. Typically bite-sized and small enough to pop in the mouth, but adventurous and interesting enough to prepare the taste buds for the feast to come; this tasty tidbit can vary considerably. It might be a teeny bruschetta, sip of a brightly coloured soup, intensely flavoured foam, meaty nibble or fragment of fish topped with a few granules of caviar; it’s often more creative and adventurous than what’s on the actual menu. You’ll often be asked what you thought of the amuse bouche, as the chef may be experimenting with a new flavour or ingredient, which they may develop into a starter or entrée in the future. So really, it’s more of a wee welcome than a taste of what’s to come and a way for the chef to show its diners just how innovative a dish he or she can whip up while spiking the customers appetite while they’re at it.
Introduced as a course back in nouvelle cuisine’s salad days, which focused on smaller, more vibrantly flavoured fare, the amuse bouche was previously found only in the kitchens of fine dining establishments. Over the course of its short-lived existence, the amuse bouche has found its way to aspiring Michelin star restaurants, bistros, diners and even dinner parties these days. In the same way as it acts as a chef’s token of appreciation, at home a host can say ‘here’s a taste of something I’m trying out’ with just an espresso cup filled with a pre-dinner sip or a single garlic prawn served on an Asian spoon. Just a little something to say that supper is on its way and that it’s going to be delicious. The secret to the amuse bouche is in the Lilliputian proportions; you’ve got to keep things tiny. Often served in a demitasse, shot glass (for dramatic effect with colourful broths), skewer, saucer or oversized porcelain spoon; the presentation of the amuse bouche is as important as the tang it creates on the tongue.
So, next time you hear amuse bouche all you need to know is that it’s going to be pretty, tiny and free of charge. As a firm fan of eating to entertain my mouth, the amuse bouche is a French invention that for me c’est un vrai plaisir de dégustation!
"The amuse-bouche is the best way for a great chef to express his big ideas in small bites." - Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten