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Definition of "amuse" (in the food sense)

What is this? An appetizer course? A between-courses thing? This term seems to have popped up ffrequently lately (they LOVED to say this on Top Chef) and I'm seeing it on these boards....And my dictionary doesn't have any definitions for "amuse" other than as a verb, and not as a noun in the food sense...

thanks....

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    1. re: JGrey

      Yeah, oddly (as the dictionary notes) they don't seem to say it in France. When I was in Paris, a chef there told me that "bouche" was a somewhat unsavory term for the mouth (he explained it, as far as I could tell, as being the equivalent of the way someone might say, "I'm going to punch you in the kisser,") and that is why they say gueule.

      1. re: meg944

        Amuse-geule is the correct term. Amuse-bouche is an American affectation, as incorrect as saying EYEther and NYEther...and of course I realize that this stance leaves me standing hip-deep in the incoming tide, hollering, "No! Go back!"

        1. re: meg944

          As far as I know, it's the other way around - "gueule" is a coarser word, it literally refers to animals' mouths. "Bouche" is for people.

          Yet somehow we've always said "amuse-gueule."

          1. re: piccola

            No - gueule refers to the mouths of animals, but it also is used to mean one's face (as in "gueule de bois" for "hangover"). "Fine guele" can mean "gourmet." "Bouche" is mouth in a general sense - mouth of a river or entrance to tunnel, big mouth, loud mouth, running off at the mouth. It's also one's mouth in a clinical sense, and therefore rather distasteful to mention at the table.

            1. re: Will Owen

              I just got an E-mail from my friend in France and you are correct Will Owen. I have learned something new. Thanks

              1. re: Will Owen

                It's true that gueule is used in other ways, as you mentioned. But I've never heard that bouche was a distasteful word (and French is my native language). Maybe it was true originally, but it certainly doesn't apply now.

        2. OK the MW definition is good, but it isn't the full story. An amuse should be a taste of what's to come. Usually it's a piece of something that is coming later in the meal but prepared a different way. So for example- on the specials menu at Le Bec-Fin there was once a seared scallop dish. So, for the amuse they did a piece of a scallop in a tarragon sauce. (never mind the fact it wasn't done well, but that's another story).

          1. I was taught that an amuse bouche was rather like a "wee welcome", rather than a taste of what was to come.

            2 Replies
            1. re: finewineserver

              I agree. Also because the amuse is usually the same for each person, but they're not all necessarily eating the same entree.

              1. re: bklyngrl

                It appears to me now that I was being a little misleading in my description- in terms of a taste of what's to come I mean in the sense that it takes something the chef is extremely proud of that is being placed on the menu and using that as an example taste of the menu to come.

                Here's a question- is an amuse to be served before or after ordering?

            2. In New Orleans an amuse bouche is served when you sit down and before you order. It is a French term meaning to delight the mouth. It is meant as a complimentary starter from the kitchen.It can be simple like a bruschetta or as complicated as a savory zabaglione, which I had recently and it was fantastic served in an egg shell.

              6 Replies
              1. re: Tonto

                The old New Orleans term was "lagniappe." Have they gone on the "amuse-bouche" bandwagon too, then?

                1. re: Will Owen

                  When I was at August in NOLA they were using the term amuse-bouche as was Lillette I believe.

                  1. re: Will Owen

                    According to Cassell's New French Dictionary Bouche is defined as Mouth;lips;tongue;a person(as consumer of food) Gueule is defined as Mouth (of animals);(vulg) instead of human mouth or face.

                    1. re: Tonto

                      Larousse has it otherwise. I took my definitions from Nouveau Petit Larousse (1969) and from the Larousse Concise French-English Dictionary (1993).

                    2. re: Will Owen

                      I thought a lagniappe was anything thrown in, not necessarily limited to food.

                  2. It is typically a "gift from the chef" and is meant to be, as finewineserver and Tonto indicated, an amusement for the mouth/palette. From the kitchen perspective, it is a grand way to use bits of fine ingredients (or ingredients in general), since utilisation and food costs are always foremost to managing the bottom line. What a great way to provide a gift to patrons and not waste raw materials! I've enjoyed wonderfully creative presentations from soup in a demitasse cup, to a savory custard in a quail egg shell, and steak tartar on a gaufrette (meat and potato - quite clever).