Good Apéritif, Bad Apéritif
There is something very civilizing about an apéritif. It’s almost a toast to the meal to come. Not only can a little bit of wine or booze stimulate the appetite, but it can calm the mood and help put you in the right frame of mind for the feast that is about to unfold.
I’m a big fan.
And really I can’t say that I have a favorite. Often it depends on my mood, the food that will follow, the season, and what’s on hand. Mrs. Fussy once had a fondness for a glass of Prosecco before a meal. My mother sometimes enjoys a small glass of cream sherry.
But recently I had a bit of an apéritif disaster that I wanted to share, just to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to you.
In Greece it’s not uncommon to have a glass of ouzo before a meal. In France one may have pastis. Anise-based aperitifs are enjoyed by cultures around the world.
I wanted something light and refreshing. Something herbal sounded good. But it’s winter and I wanted nothing to do with a cold and bracing gin cocktail. The obvious answer was a well-louched absinthe. And really it was perfect. It totally hit the spot.
This was the first time that I had absinthe before a meal. Usually I rely on its medicinal properties after dinner on those rare occasions when I overindulge in food. And it’s truly miraculous at settling one’s stomach. But I cannot say the same thing about its qualities as an apéritif.
After my drink, I went back to the kitchen to taste and season the food before serving. But absolutely everything I put in my mouth was overwhelmingly bitter. I couldn’t actually taste anything but an intense and all-encompassing bitterness.
Which sent me on a quest to quickly try and get the absinthe off my tongue. It involved copious amounts of water, some crackers, bread and nuts. Wow, that was weird and disgusting.
I love my absinthe. I love how the floral bitterness of the wormwood underpins the drink and keeps the sweet anise in check. Maybe I’m an idiot for even trying to drink a small glass before a meal. Perhaps absinthe doesn’t react the same way with other foods as it does with tomato sauce. But I don’t think I will attempt to find out any time soon.
Things like this, that are learned the hard way, are not soon forgotten.