Today’s Dining In section of the NY Times carried an article by Melissa Clark entitled “Tiny Come-Ons, Plain and Fancy” about the amuse-bouche–literal translation ‘mouth pleaser’–as a prelude to dinner.
High-end, fashionable restaurants got back on board with the trend long ago (some never abandoned it) offering luscious artful little pre-dinner bites or sips designed to please both eye and palate and to make the diner feel special–sort of a lagniappe from the chef.
A few years back, another NYTimes columnist Ruth Reichl wrote this of the mouth ticklers offered by chef Marc Murphy at New York’s La Fourchette:
This is a chef with an unabashed taste for lavish ingredients. On one night, his amuse-bouche was a bit of lobster in gazpacho; on another, a fillet of rouget with artichokes and capers. Little Parmesan toasts arrived with drinks.
In keeping with its lofty ambitions, La Fourchette offers a small, but nicely chosen selection of cheeses. This is followed by a sweet amuse-bouche, a little creme brulee. And a few awesome desserts
A little spoon of a sweet lagniappe after cheese. Mmm–m–mmmmmmm. Probably wouldn’t even need a full dessert after that.
Clearly the amuse-bouche isn’t just a savory sip or nibble before the soup, salad, or entree at dinner. In fact, it can span all meals. To wit: Norma’s, one of our favorite spots in Manhattan for breakfast, has for as many years as I can remember, offered a tiny verticle shot glass of their fruit smoothie du jour to each guest upon arrival. And I must say, it amuses my bouche every time.
And according to Ms. Clark, the practice of offerring little bites for tickling your guests’ mouths has moved from the restaurant dining room to the one at home. A move that all we low-carbing crowd should applaud, since the tiny portions of such bites can offer us the opportunity to have just a nip of something we might feel perhaps too carby to enjoy as a full serving…at least without a measure of angst.
Say, the tiny bit of buttered corn soup served in an elegant popcorn-salt-rimmed espresso cup that Ms. Clark describes and gives the recipe for in her piece.
Or perhaps half a black fig topped with blue cheese or chevre and run under the broiler just before serving to warm it and bubble the cheese served up in a Chinese soup spoon.
But these bites lend themselves especially well to things that already fit into the low-carb lifestyle, but are too pricey to eat in abundance. Ms. Clark mentions a couple: Bigeye Tuna with MicroHerbs and Ginger-Apricot Aioli and Goat-Cheese Stuffed Boquerones (white anchovies.)
We offered a few small bites in an “Appetizers and Munchies” episode of our PBS television show CookwoRx; the recipes for these are available in the companion cookbook and in the recipe section of the show’s website.
Here’s one of my favorites:
Serves 8 (makes about 16 spoons)
1 large ripe Haas avocado
1 small jar (about 2 ounces) black whitefish caviar
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup half and half cream
1. Whisk the sour cream and half and half until smooth and have ready.
2. Drain the caviar into a fine mesh strainer; rinse with water and drain again. Put into a small bowl and squeeze the juice of half a lemon directly over the caviar and set aside.
3. Halve, seed, and slice the avocado halves across from side to side into 4 slices. Slice each half in two lengthwise to create 16 bite-sized pieces.
4. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the pieces.
5. Drain the excess lemon juice from the caviar and gently separate the eggs with a spoon.
6. Place one piece of avocado on each of 16 pretty teaspoons, top with a teaspoon of the cream, and top with a sprinkling of caviar or more to your liking.
Protein per serving: 1.4 grams
Effective carb per serving: 0.8 grams
Even with a liberal dollop of it on each spoon, you will very likely have some caviar left after you prepare the bites. If you’re a caviar lover, feel free to do as I do: open another avocado, dump what’s left in the hollows, top with what’s left of the cream and amuse your own bouche before the guests arrive.
After all, why should they have all the fun?