Think back to the appetizers of 20 years ago. Dips, dips, dips. And more dips. Remember?
To be generous, let's also throw in chicken livers wrapped in bacon. They weren't bad, but they stuck to the roof of the mouth like paste.
Well, those days are gone.
Dramatic shifts of the wind over the past 20 years have brought appetizers of such variety, creativity and scope to the entertaining scene as to boggle the imagination. What did it? The influx of many culinary ideas inspired by professional chefs from France, Italy and the Orient helped. The revolutionary eruption of food--talking, eating and cooking--as an American obsession clinched it.
Today, appetizers are a force in themselves. There are restaurants here and abroad that feature nothing but appetizers. Waiters no longer are miffed when orders for several appetizers replace the single entree. Hosts develop menus to complement them. Societies create fund-raising events around them.
Take the appetizer-wine event on the roof of Le Bel Age Hotel earlier this year by the National Kidney Foundation of Southern California. About 20 of Los Angeles' top restaurant chefs were summoned to come up with an exciting array of appetizers for invited patrons.
Among the restaurants rounded up by chefs' coordinator Roy Yamaguchi of 385 North were Seventh Street Bistro, 72 Market Street, Bombay Palace, Cafe Mondrian, Camelions, Colette, Katsu, Angeli, La Brasserie, La Toque, Le Chardonnay, Les Anges, Mandarette, Orleans-Cajun-Creole Restaurant, Prego, Primi, Ristorante Chianti Cucina, Siamese Princess and Trumps.
Exciting appetizer ideas, indeed.
Although there were some appetizers that take professional know-how to duplicate, many were of the type any cook can tackle.
Claudio Marchesan of Prego in Beverly Hills, for instance, wrapped paper-thin slices of prosciutto around one end of extra long, thin bread sticks.
Marchesan also created tiny fried eggplant rolls filled with cheese held together with wood picks. Bufala mozzarella (fresh mozzarella) slices were also sandwiched with sliced plum tomatoes dressed with extra virgin olive oil and basil.
Angelo Auriana of Primi, an all-first-course restaurant owned by Piero Selvaggio, also of Valentino, introduced black and white tortelli on bamboo sticks dipped in two sauces. The black tortelli is made with pasta colored and flavored with squid or cuttlefish ink. The ink is available upon request at some specialty fish stores, such as Flying Foods Co. International at 1225 Broadway in Santa Monica, or at Pacific Seafood, 8822 W. Pico Blvd. Los Angeles, where the ink is sold in one-teaspoon concentrated packets to be diluted as needed. The ink is best kept frozen until ready to thaw and use or refrigerated briefly to avoid spoilage. Squid ink can also be extracted from whole squid whose ink sacs are intact. To remove the ink from the sac, first carefully cut out the sac and puncture it with the tip of a sharp knife over a measuring cup.
Black tortelli is especially complementary with the Chardonnay cream sauce given here. The white tortelli made with plain pasta is served with a fresh tomato-pepper sauce. Actually, any complementary sauce may be used. The sticks make a handsome display on a tray being passed for cocktail nibbles during the holiday season. The trick, however, is to serve the tortelli warm or at room temperature and the sauces hot.
Chef Yamaguchi came up with a chicken galantine served thinly sliced with Orange-Chile Mayonnaise, an offbeat touch with a classical idea. The novice cook may shy away from boning a chicken, as might some veteran cooks, for that matter. But the same idea can be adapted by using other meats or pates purchased ready-to-eat. The boning of the chicken, in any case, can be left to a competent butcher at a specialty food store. Some supermarkets may provide boning services, as well, so do check.
Once boned, the chicken is laid flat and spread with a stuffing bound with a so-called panada, a mixture of bread or flour and eggs. The filled chicken is then rolled and steamed in chicken stock. Chilling the loaf overnight allows the chicken and stuffing to become firm and compact enough to slice like a sausage.
Camelions' chef, Elka Gilmore, came up with oysters served with three different sauces--a basil and red pepper sauce, a citrus and ginger sauce and a vinegar sauce, which is made with raspberry vinegar, peppercorns and shallots. The sauces are easy to make, yet glamorous.
Claude Alrivy of Le Chardonnay in Los Angeles served toast canapes topped with an onion marmalade made by reducing a mixture of onion, butter, sugar, vinegar and wine to marmalade consistency. The marmalade is a wonderful touch on toast or served as a condiment with pork or poultry or other holiday roasts. The marmalade can also be a bright idea for Christmas gifts, if made to be stored in sterilized sealed jars.
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