In my previous posting, I mentioned five ways to live like the French…no matter where you live, and promised to expound a bit on each in subsequent postings.
Top on the list of great French lifestyle choices is to kick the evening off with an apéritif.
What’s an Apéritif?
The aperitif is a lightly alcoholic drink enjoyed before a meal. The French believe that this little pre-dinner drink helps stimulate the appetite, and while this may be true, I think more than anything it simply readies the spirit for the joys to come.
Whether at home or in a restaurant, in America or in France, the apéritif has a way of making everything that came before it (whether a day’s work or a day’s drive on the autoroute) slip away.
Yes, there’s also a little lift from the alcohol, but the apéritif is usually not a high-proof drink; even when it is, it is not served in head-spinning portions. In fact, one of the reasons I love the apéritif is precisely because it doesn’t get you drunk, but rather, simply elevates the mood. The little drink also serves to slow you down from the day’s chase, getting you into your groove for the night.
What to Serve as an Apéritif
1. The Kir: Rhymes with “beer,” but is much more dashing to drink. Buy some high-quality Creme de Cassis (sorry, but this has to be French, as American versions are, I’m afraid, rather dismal). One bottle will last you all summer. Pour just a couple teaspoons into a small white-wine glass, and fill with about 4 ounces of well-chilled white wine—Sauvignon Blanc works just fine, and it doesn’t have to be an expensive one. Pictured at left is Chateau Bonnet White ($13), a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Muscadelle that’s widely available and perfect for drinking on its own as well as making kirs.
Start every dinner off with one of these things, and I’ll guarantee you’ll enjoy everything that comes after it more fully.
2. Lillet. Made in the Bordeaux region from wine, fruit brandy, citrus peels, and other flavorings, this is traditionally served chilled, on ice, with a small slice of orange. Again, four ounces is plenty.
3. Pernod. This anise-flavored drink isn’t for everyone, but if you enjoy black licorice and intriguing herb-and-spice flavors, you’ll like this. With its sweet-crisp appeal, it’s incredibly refreshing, too. To serve Pernod, mix one part Pernod with five parts water and ice.
4. Sparkling Wine: When serving guests, a glass of sparkling wine does wonders to get everyone into the spirit of the evening. Of course, it doesn’t have to be true French Champagne, which can be costly. Try crémant (sparkling wine) from other regions of France, especially Alsace and the Loire Valley. Or sneak over to Italy (so to speak), and pour some inexpensive Prosecco.
What to Serve with Your Apéritif
Stateside, we sometimes fall all over ourselves making fussy little appetizers, but in most French homes the apps are often pretty basic. A bowl of nuts. A bowl of olives. Maybe a long, cured hard sausage, set on a cutting board with a knife in “serve yourself” fashion.
Or even, a small bowl of potato chips (and yes, you must serve them in a bowl—the prettier, the better—and not from the bag).
Yes. Potato chips are a common French pre-dinner nibble. Served just a handful, and with the right drink and the right people—and in the right spirit of slowing down to enjoy the pleasures to come—they’re utterly delightful.