by Chef Missy
Ahhh the lovely, dainty morsel called the French hors d’oeuvre — a true Frenchism adapted and consequently abused by American food culture. The French hors d’oeuvre literally means “outside the work” and is singular (the plural is used in English only). The hors d’oeuvre is designed to whet the appetite offering a salty food as a stimulant. A typical French hors d’oeuvre is usually a small bite, served at room temperature and might include a nibble of caviar on toast, olives, salty roasted nuts, slices of cured (salted) meat, pate, sardines, pickled veggies or celery, cucumber or radishes.
In the late 1600’s wealthy Frenchmen picked at “hors d’eouvre” before and throughout the entire meal. Little plates of salty bites included briny oysters, clams, sardines, stuffed eggs, cured (salted) beef tongue or braised quail. These little plates and table layouts illustrate dinners served most authentically a la française.
Sometime around the late 1800’s, a more complicated hors d’oeuvre appeared on the scene called “dainty dishes”. These small plates presented a more substantial delight, possibly a small pastry case filled with bits of meat in a creme sauce. They were soon served as separate courses, many times after the soup course.
By the early 1900’s, styles of food service had changed radically in America evolving into the familiar multi-course structure of the contemporary meal. It was at this time (around 1860) that the term “appetizer” appeared in England (then almost simultaneously in America) to provide an Anglophone with the equivalent of the French hors d’oeuvre. By the 1890s, both the hors d’oeuvre and appetizer would appear within the same elegant menu.
When I was a child in Atlanta during the late 60’s and early 70’s, a surge of Chinese restaurants opened and were all the rage. As a young girl (and world adventurer in my own mind) I thought it was super cool eating food from another country and better yet, eating with chopsticks! I was introduced to the classic Chinese PuPu Platter, which is a tray of American-Chinese foods including egg rolls, spare ribs, chicken wings, fried wontons, crab rangoon and beef teriyaki. These foods were fried and dripping with tons of salty soy. It’s no wonder my parents were slurping down those chilled Chinese beers!
Almost immediately after college, I moved to New York City and (after being fired as a waitress) I landed a job cooking at the prestigious La Carte. So, after cooking for hours at my job, I loved ‘NO cooking’ French hors d’oeuvre for dinner which I affectionately referred to as “French PuPu”.
Now, almost 30 years later I am still cooking professionally and still preparing and serving French PuPu Platter for dinner.
- Establish a budget, $25 should do it but you can always splurge.
- Pick one cheese, I like unpasterized & aged cheeses myself or goat brie.
- Buy one long skinny, French baguette. Slice and lightly toast it and sprinkle with dried Herbs de Provence. Inexpensive French bilini’s are nice too and you can lightly toast them.
- Choose 2 meats. Try Le Petite Cochon brand of chicken or duck pate and a salami. My absolute favorite is a wild pheasant pate with blueberries and almonds. It is superb!
- Choose your brine. Try cornichons (tiny pickles), marinated pitted olives and pickled veggies now come in a container…already brined! Pickled okra is a favorite too.
- Choose 2 veggies and 1 fruit. Try peeled and sliced English cucumbers and salted radishes. Endive lettuce and celery also work nicely, but be sure to de-string the celery. I also love thinly sliced apple, but be sure to douse it with some lemon juice so it doesn’t turn brown. Sprinkle Fleur de Sel (fancy French finishing salt) on the veggies.
- Choose 1-2 fish bites — the fattier, the better. Try boneless French sardines and smoked oysters.
- My rule…If I have it in the house, it goes on the French PuPu Platter: marinated artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, roasted or balsamic pickled beets, asparagus, left-over grilled veggies, French mustard, homemade hummus, French white anchovies from the Mediterranean, red/yellow peppers, tapenade (olive spread), inexpensive caviar, small grape tomatoes and even a hard boiled egg.
- Remember to pull from your herb garden or pick-up a little rosemary or thyme for color, aroma and garnish.
- YOU WILL ALSO NEED: good quality extra virgin olive oil, cracked pepper, fleur de sel (fancy French finishing salt) for sprinkling over raw veggies, Herbs de Provence, a large platter, one pate knife, two small forks and small plates and/or cocktail napkins. HELPER NOTE: Most of the time I slice the salami and cheese and put it on the platter ready to grab and eat.
REMEMBER…Set the mood. Put on some romantic French songs. French music is also fun for a night with your bestie gal pal too! AND plan a funny or romantic French movie for after French PuPu. My GO-TO is the original Pink Panther with Peter Sellers…laughter is the BEST medicine.
Stay tuned for the pilot of the television show The Holistic Francophile for beginner chefs for fantastic, easy French dishes.
I love you and remember, if you can make a cup of coffee you can learn to cook!
P.P.S. I want to hear from YOU. Shoot me a note firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment and let me know how it went!
About the Author
Chef Missy received her degree in holistic and integrative nutrition at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City. She is Board Certified by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners and has obtained additional training and credentials in Immunology and Endocrinology from the Institute for the Brain Potential under the American Medical Association. She also holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Design from Converse College and a conservatorial degree in acting from The American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City. Chef Missy is the Founder-President of Conscious Nutrition and Living LLC and the creator of multiple brands including Radiant & Restored a Body-Beauty Course designed to restore a woman’s emotional, spiritual and physical body and The Holistic Francophile for beginner chefs, an interactive television show for people who love all things French. Chef Missy is married to Thomas Fraley, a hospitality veteran with 26 years experience in service management. Chef Missy cooks professionally in Charleston, SC where she and Thomas reside with their rescue dog, Abbey Road.