Thursday, February 21, 2008

The amuse-bouche

Spicy tomato bisque with quail egg and coarse sea salt.

The amuse-bouche (pronounced ah-myuz boosh) is an important part of the French culinary tradition. Chefs at most fine restaurants offer guests an amuse-bouche, a bite-sized treat that excites the tongue and delights the eye, before the meal is served. It's considered a gift of the Chef de Cuisine and is presented even before the menu. In recent years they have been elevated to miniature works of art. Usually highly flavorful, the amuse-bouche is a sort of harbinger of things to come so many chefs work diligently on their taste and presentation using the very best of ingredients and sometimes requiring hours of preparation. Most of them consider it to be a signature of their talent. I love them. You always know you are dining at the very highest level of cuisine when presented with one. They are usually served on a porcelain, Asian soup spoon or a very small plate.

They are also fun. The creation of a stellar amuse-bouche requires both talent and inventiveness. Over the past few weeks I have been playing with ideas and recipes and produced two pretty good ones. The first, pictured above, is a taste of spicy tomato bisque topped with a boiled quail egg and coarse sea salt. I used lots of basil to give the bisque a bite and it plays well off the flavor of the tiny egg. The salt adds a bit of crunch and another burst of flavor.

Quail eggs.

Quail eggs have the same flavor as a chicken egg but they are much smaller. To cook them fill the saucepan with cold water to about one inch above the eggs. Heat the pan and as soon as the water begins to boil remove it from the heat and cover. Let stand for 7 minutes and the eggs will be perfect.

Jewel of kiwi with lemon sorbet and limoncello.

The other creation was simple. Kiwi fruit, a bit of lemon sorbet for sweetness and a splash of imported Italian Limoncello for that burst of flavor.

The celebrated executive chef/partner of Chicago’s Tru restaurant, Rick Tramonto wrote a beautifully illustrated book on the subject of these treasures a few years back entitled, you guessed it: AMUSE-BOUCHE. Amuse-bouche are a favorite of diners at Tru, many of whom come expressly to enjoy the “grand amuse"--an assortment of four different taste sensations. It's definitely worth a read if you want to learn a bit more about these tantalizing and sometimes exotic delights.

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