– by Jakob Anderson, Food Writer –
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Were those bowls of soup at the fancy restaurant enhanced by the dried parsley sprinkled effortlessly around the rim? Are hotel mashed potatoes taken to the next level by their crowning of sprinkled chives? Thank God we are past the 80’s (even though I have the utmost respect for butter sculpting). Garnishing today has developed into a technique that must be learned and understood in order to produce eye catching and engaging food. It does not have to be exclusive to restaurant cooks or chefs either. While garnishes are not as important while serving your family a weekday meal, understanding the process of how to decide on a garnish is still important. Learning how to contrast flavours and colours, adding height and creating a balance are just a few of the roles a well constructed garnish can play. Here are a few ways I like to develop my ideas for a garnish (drop the expired dried basil in your hand this instant).
All of the following strategies should be supporting roles to creating height on a plate. There is a time and place for flat dishes such as focaccias, cookies or certain pastas, but most of the time I like to add a little height to everything I’m making. Don’t overdo it however, a leaning tower of pasta can be disastrous!
Catching The Eye
The only credit I will give dry parsley is that green looks nice up against white. (Okay? Now we’re done). This is how you want to approach any garnish that will sit on a dish served in a large group setting. You want someone to walk by a platter of food and be drawn by the vibrant green chervil sitting atop your deep purple beets studded with excessively large chunks of goat cheese. Stimulation. Stimulation. Stimulation.
A Shaved Salad Can Act As A Garnish
A simple salad can actually be one of your best friends when it comes to garnishing. Not a lettuce based salad, think more shaved vegetables, fruits, nuts and lots of acid. A mandolin is a great kitchen tool to have when creating these kinds of salads to garnish plates. Shaving raw carrots, beets, fennel and radish are just a small few of your options to play with. These work particularly well with fish dishes.
Don’t Be Afraid Of Oils
Don’t let your health forward mind tell you that “adding extra fat” is always a poor choice. Raw oils such as olive (really only the higher quality stuff however) or nut oils are outstanding finishers to certain dishes. If your wanting just a hint of pistachio but aren’t in need of the crunch and intense flavour of the nut itself, opt for a light drizzle of pistachio oil. The flavour will be mellow and light but will come through enough for someone to say, “is there pistachio in here?” My favourite way to use raw oils as a garnish is over any kind of fresh cheese. I am a total sucker for the classic, a big slice of fresh mozzarella, a drizzle of olive oil, and some flaky salt.
Go With Your Gut
I’m blindly assuming most of you are home cooks (don’t be using that chef word, its exclusive). This means that if you screw up a dish it might be a friend or a family member telling you that something of yours is”‘off.” This allows you to develop a gut sense when creating food. If your first instinct is “wow, this pork should be garnished with toasted walnut and honey,” then give it a shot! You will quickly start to get more creative once you learn how to associate flavours. This will definitely lead to a few duds or missteps, but who cares! Free your inhibitions and let your sense of taste guide you!
Jakob Anderson is a trained cook and food enthusiast who approaches cooking as something that connects people in ways they don’t realize. “I love talking about food, eating food, thinking food, discussing food, debating food, think about debating food, fooding food? I love food.”