The Apéritif Dînatoire

A new French culinary art?

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The aperitif, a “French” way of life that goes back to Antiquity!

When it comes to aperitifs, every Frenchman and every family has its rituals and preferred beverage & snack combo: Kir-cassis and crackers; sparkling wines and sponge finger; Pastis and tapenade; Martini and olives; etc. Aperitifs are not bound to the opening of a meal: there are family aperitifs, aperitifs on holiday, aperitifs with colleagues. The staple of French tradition is also shared in other European countries like Italy and Spain (think tapas). We dare say that people elsewhere consider the aperitif a worthy representative of French savoir-vivre.

Today, the aperitif has evolved from a beverage into an actual meal, which comes with its own name, the apéritif dînatoire – translating into an aperitif dinner. This article tries to define the term, but we'll start off with some historical background to the drink.

The Romans came up with the idea. The aperitif comes from the Latin verb “to see”, to open). The Romans used to enjoy a glass of honeyed wine before dinner, a practice that was repeated in the Middle Ages with the addition of plants supposedly carrying therapeutic qualities.

However, the French modern “aperitif” owes its nobility to a certain Joseph Dubonnet. He created a vermouth made from wine, quinine and plants to treat malaria. It has fallen into disuse but his recipe has marked popular culture in the 20th century. From a remedy, Dubonnet quinquinat is now a popular aperitif.

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Are we experiencing a mini aperitif evolution?

While the aperitif is a welcoming ritual that generally announces a shared, watered-down meal, the concept of an aperitif dinner has emerged in recent years. That's right! Gone are the hours spent in the kitchen preparing homemade dishes, we are moving towards a new concept, a kind of evening brunch to share with friends, family, in a bar or at home.

More and more sophisticated, the aperitif has gone from being accompanied by a bowl of crisps (chips for our American readers) to real culinary compositions. The aperitif dinner serves as a “light meal” with the aperitif as the centrepiece, tending to simplify the kitchen tasks and facilitate service. The traditional meal is replaced by various more or less creative dishes based on spreads, tapas, salted quiches and other appetizers, served in small portions, in individual portions for example in verrines or spoons. Everyone chooses, everyone eats to their satisfaction and according to their tastes (or even dietary constraints).

The web is now full of recipes for such dishes, each more original than the next, giving the aperitif-dinner a status of culinary art in its own right!

For those who have no time, it is always possible to use delicacies and add appetizers and other tasty celebrations. Otherwise, raw sliced vegetables, spreads, delicatessen and cheeses can be prepared in advance. Chips, nuts, olives, tasty puff pastry and cheese gougères are also recommended, as they go well with wine and cocktails.

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The aperitif-dinner, instructions for use

The aperitif dinner usually starts around 6pm. Without any other formality, guests take their seats where they please, allowing a larger number of people (and children) to mingle and move around. It becomes a relaxed and informal meeting where guests get comfortable on the couch or walk around the living room. The cutlery? Optional!

In short, it's less work and more fun, which seems ideal for everyone. In terms of cooking, it is not necessary to do everything from scratch, excellent healthy products available on the market. All this combined with sparkling wines and/or cocktails, an excellent playlist and a lively group of guests makes for a perfect relaxed atmosphere in which the lady of the house can participate. Cheers!

The most popular alcoholic drinks at the aperitif: cooked wines made from plants, sparkling wines, kirs, cooked wines, Port, Banyusl, cocktails, Suze, Cointreau, dry rosé wines, Pastis and anisette, natural sweet wines, beer, cider, sangria…

The most common dishes as an aperitif dinner: Savoury cakes, verrines, muffins, meatballs, biscuits, appetizers, spreads, mini quiches of all kinds, salty tarts, brochettes, appetizers, veloutés and gazpachos, falafels, tapas, vegetable sticks, dips…

And for God's sake, do not serve all of these.

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Recipe from the sea: how about seaweed tartar?

Here is a very simple recipe, ideal for an aperitif dinner, that we have selected from the website of our partner Régine Quéva, algae expert, who accompanies us on our food travels in Brittany Secret of the Algae: Reality tour along the Atlantic.

- 4 tbsp. flake seaweed (sea lettuce, dulse, nori),
- the juice of a 1/2 lemon,
- 2 tablespoons olive oil,
- 1 tablespoon of vinegar,
- 1 clove of garlic,
- 1 tablespoon of capers,
- salt, pepper.

Rehydrate the seaweed in the lemon juice. Add the oil, vinegar, crushed garlic and capers. Season with salt and pepper. Knead the whole thing and let it rest in the fridge for a few hours.
This seaweed tartar is ideal as an aperitif on toast spread with goat cheese or fresh cheese.

Don't want to cook or can't cook?

We tested a seaweed preparation bought in an organic store during our vegan picnic in Paris: Delicious on crackers or toasts!

Bon appétit !