One of the French traditions that I enjoy revisiting the most when I go home to visit my family is the ‘apéritif’ (or ‘apéro’ hour as we usually call it). Similar to an ‘aperitivo‘ in Italy, an apéritif pretty much consists of pre-dinner drinks served with a range of appetizers. They’re designed to whet your appetite (the word aperitif actually comes come the latin word aperire which means to open ) and to help people get into a festive mood before a dinner party.
Apéritifs are also great when you don’t really have the time, money or energy to prepare a full sit-down meal but still want to catch up with friends at home. They’re also usually much more relaxed than dinner parties.
If you’d like to give your next party a bit of a French twist, here are a few pointers to help you plan the perfect apéritif:
Aperitifs come in many shapes and forms but in my experience you can never go wrong with the following options:
- Kir – a simple mix of dry white wine and crème de cassis (blackcurrant liquor). When I am feeling particularly festive I like to turn it into a ‘kir royale’ by using Champagne or Sparkling wine instead of white wine.
- Campari – Campari is a very popular apéritif in France especially in the summer as it is lovingly bitter and refreshing. I love its ruby red colour and I like to think that Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz would certainly approve of such a drink.
- Pastis – Another classic. This anise based concoction is synonymous with the south of France and can bring a little bit of sunshine to even the most gloomy winter evenings.
Other popular options include: Vermouth, Champagne (or Sparkling wine), Lillet, and Dubonnet.
Background Music is often over-looked by people which I think is a real shame because it can really set the scene for an evening and alter people’s mood dramatically. Apéritifs are meant to ease people into an evening of fun after a hard day’s work so it’s important to choose music that will be upbeat without being too intrusive (apéritifs are not raves).
I like a little bit of soul music with my cocktails but a French music mix can also be a nice ‘on theme’ option.
As a responsible host, it’s always important to provide some appetizers alongside alcoholic drinks. Remember that dinner is just around the corner though so keep your appetizers to small, easy-to-eat mouthfuls. Here are a few appetizers that you’ll often find at an aperitif in France:
- Peanuts or other types of nuts. You’ll often be offered free peanuts in French bistros because their high salt content makes you more thirsty. Honey roasted peanuts are my personal favorites.
- Olives, gerkins or pickled onions.
- Toasted breads topped with pate, tuna rillettes, goats cheese or tapenade (black olives dip)
- Slices of saucisson (french salami). You can replace this with any type of cold meats you like – I personally have a soft spot chorizo.
- Mini puff pastries (such as savoury palmiers) stuffed with either cheese, sun-dried tomato, spinach, salami etc.
- Crudites with dips.
Finally, if you wish to turn your night into an ‘apéritif dinatoire’ (a mix between dinner and apéritif) then quiches are a wonderful option. My favorite thing to make for a party are those mini quiches but a smoked salmon quiche would also be delicious.
Bon appétit x