by Chef Jenn Farmer
Since before Roman times there have been feasts. Ever since there have been appetizers. Yep, the appetizer’s history seems to begin in the first century in Rome as part of their famous multi-course feasts. I guess at some point someone realized that sometimes it is possible to have too much of a good thing. That is when I believe appetizers or hors d’oeuvres appeared. They appeal to the health conscious (portion control), children (small size), party goers and throwers (they are cute and easy to eat). I like small bites for entirely selfish reasons. I like them because I get to try more things. That is right, I am greedy and want to have it all, but know it would be painful to eat the same thing in a normal portion.
Hors d’ oeuvre are literally translated as apart from the main work, or in cooking it means anything served before the main course of the meal. Another style of meal opener is an amuse-bouche. That is what the French call bite-sized hors d’oeuvre. The biggest difference is that it is sent to the table gratis (free!) to the patrons and is selected by the chef—it is not a menu selection. Additionally it is served to all guests, and often must accommodate food allergies etc.
Years ago I worked in Las Vegas, NV for a stint, and cooked in a very fine dining establishment. The food was traditional French in style, and was comprised of several courses. The chefs there sent out two different amuse bouche. One went to every table shortly after they were seated. It was a blue cheese mousse, with chopped pecans, served on the end of a beautiful silver dessert style spoon with extra-long handle. The mousse was made from scratch in house, and the spoons were piped by the lowest man on the totem pole, and that (wo)man was me. My first night was Valentine’s Day. I was not the most proficient at piping, so at first I had trouble making these spoons look perfectly as the chef insisted they did.
Soon I got the hang of it, and I was off and running. I still have a picture somewhere of the silver trays lined with spoons that I piped that night. I made 800 of them before the restaurant opened. Next we had a special appetizer that came after the guests ordered. It was usually comprised of a hot or chilled soup, served in a tiny cup, smaller than a shot glass, and usually perfectly garnished. For example one night I made a chilled pea soup, but it had the smallest croutons, cut into perfect squares and cooked golden and crispy in bacon fat, and had a tiny pea flower or tendril alongside the cup.
The second part was usually some sort of seafood, on Valentines it was Komomoto Oysters with red wine mignonette. For the last bit on the plate it was usually a salad made of micro greens with unique dressings, or ingredients. These items were all so small the plate the three bites were arranged on was probably only 8 inches long and 2 wide. The plate was a conversation starter, and show stopper. The best part was even though it was tedious work; was that we were allowed to express our creativity, within reason. The chef would tell us the main ingredient, and then we were allowed to come up with an idea. If it was accepted, we ran it that night. There was a great deal of pride that went into making these bites.
So you don’t know the difference between appetizers and hors d’oeuvre?
Appetizers are usually a small or bite sized food served before a meal to entice and make a person hungry. An appetizer can be an hors d’ourve, or the first course of a meal. Here in the States, we tend to use appetizers at the first course. Excite the palate is the main objective. There are many foods that are very good at this, especially if they make a person salivate.
Tart or acidic, salty, and spicy foods tend to increase a person’s appetite, sometimes immediately. Appetizers can be ordered by the patron of a restaurant off the menu if they like, and may not necessarily match the meal as amuse bouche often do. In fact most chefs use amuse bouche to
show off their talent, or just as a sneak peek of the meal to come.
Canapés (or translated as couches) have a bread or toast base, then other ingredients on top of the little bready couch. They are usually just a bite or two, and easy to eat. . Crudité is just a platter of raw vegetables served with a dipping sauce.
Tapas is the Spanish version of an appetizer, often being a small plate of food, so no one is too focused on eating, and can enjoy drinking and conversation instead. In Central America it is called bocas.
- One and a half pounds Tuna steak, sushi grade
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 T Olive oil
- 4 T Lime juice, freshly squeezed
- One small red onion, seeded and small diced.
- One half carrot, very finely julienned or shredded
- One half Serrano chili, minced
- One clove garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon, finely minced cilantro
- 1 scallion, sliced thinly
Cut the tuna into manageable steaks for searing purposes, and then season with salt and pepper and sear. (Seared on outside, raw inside, black and blue style is the very best). Chill the tuna very well. Make the marinade using half the olive oil, and all the remaining ingredients. Marinade the tuna for at least 12 hours, 24 is better. Serve thinly sliced on crispy crackers or crusty baguette, garnished with some of the lime pickled vegetables. Eat and enjoy. Serves about 6-8
SPANISH STUFFED MUSSELS
- 2 lbs. mussels, cleaned and beard removed
- One third cup white wine or chicken broth
- 3 garlic cloves
- 4 T. Butter
- One third cup flour
- 1 onion
- 2 cups milk
- One third cup minced or crushed tomato
- One half teaspoon hot chili flakes
- bread crumbs
Heat a sauté pan and add mussels and white wine to the pan. Allow the mussels to open (discard any unopened). Remove from pan and allow the mussels to cool enough to handle. When cooled enough, remove the mussels from the shell, saving the shells. Chop the mussels up and set aside. Mince the onion, and garlic. Heat butter in a heavy bottomed over low heat. Stir in the garlic and onions, stir often. Allow to cook for two minutes then add the flour. Make a blonde roux, allowing it to cook for about 5 minutes. Pour in the milk, and whisk well, to avoid lumps and the sauce is thick and creamy. Add chili flakes and tomato sauce. Add the chopped mussels.
Scoop a little of the mixture into each clean mussel shell, allowing it to heap up. Set the mussels carefully on a sheet pan and put into the fridge.
Meanwhile whisk the eggs. Set up the eggs and the mussels and crumbs. Pour olive oil into a large heavy bottomed pan, and heat to medium high. Dip the mussels into the egg, and then roll in bread crumbs, frying shell side up. Fry until golden brown and heated through. Serve with small spoons or cocktail forks, and allow guest to scoop mixture from shell. Serves 4-6
MARINATED MANCHEGO CHEESE
- 5 ounces Manchego Cheese
- 1 garlic clove, sliced thinly
- 1 Tablespoon sherry wine vinegar (any wine vinegar can be substituted)
- 3 tarragon sprigs, chopped
- 3 thyme sprigs, stripped
- 1 fresh bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- One half cup olive oil of good quality
Cut the cheese into large cubes (1 inch), and set aside. Make a marinade by mixing the remaining
ingredients keep all the herbs and spices whole (it looks rustic and tastes delicious). Pour over the
cheese, and let it marinade for one day under refrigeration. Serve with Red wine, crusty bread, olives, and cured meats. Serves 4-6