Garnishes are the perfect way to spruce up anything from an elegant gourmet dinner to a casual brunch. If you’ve stared in frustration at the complicated illustrations contained in most cookbooks, describing how to create astounding garnishes, rest assured that you can accomplish great effects without the hassle.
Sauces are one of the simplest garnishes because they come ready prepared in endless colors and textures. You can use anything from ketchup and chocolate sauce to salad dressings and homemade gravy. Often we just dump the required sauce onto our food and leave it at that. Try drizzling it over your food in a gentle zig-zag motion, or, if you’re feeling artistic, a shape such as a bow or heart. For an even more professional look, drizzle a pattern onto a plain plate before placing the food neatly atop it. For a custard, you might like to create a puddle of chocolate sauce for it to sit in and then drizzle more over the dessert.
Even scrambled eggs can look elegant with a zig-zag of ketchup over them. When you want the elegance of a sauce, but don’t know what would go with the particular food that you’re preparing, try some oil. Olive oil is a rich golden color that can be easily mixed with other ingredients to provide a variety of colors. Try blending it with some herbs for a green hue, or add a drop of food coloring. Or beet juice. Experiment with your sauces and have fun.
How many times have you eaten out at a restaurant and found a half-slice of lemon on the edge of your plate? Or a half-moon of antelope? Slices of fruit add a fresh, summery feel to your plate, but don’t stop there, a wedge of lemon on the edge of a water glass or whole slices floating in a punch bowl are the perfect garnish for liquids.
The absolute basic fruit garnish is a slice of whatever you please. Just place it on the edge of the plate, atop the food, or combine several slices for a bed on which to put the food. Try half slices arranged in a fan shape at the edge of the plate, two or three pieces will do.
Don’t discount whole fruit such as blueberries or strawberries. A little cluster in the center of a plate or off to one side will add grace to your food and they taste wonderful! For strawberries, you might try slicing them from the pointed end, 3/4 of the way to the stem end. Make each slice about 1/4 inch thick and then gently spread them like a fan. It may take a couple ruined (eatable!)strawberries to get the perfect fan, but this is a fairly simple garnish still.
For a bit more complicated side garnish, try melon balls. It generally helps to have a melon baller, but you can achieve a similar effect with an ice cream scoop. Just place the ball on the plate with the messy side down. You may also use a cookie cutter to stamp out fun shapes from firmer fruits such as apples, pears, cantaloupe, etc.
Last, but not least, you can always use citrus peels. These add that professional touch quickly and easily. You can peel the fruit with a knife and then slice (the hard way) or you can use a zester which has handy little holes through which tiny shreds of peel are stripped from the fruit. You don’t waste any of your lemon or lime and you can get the peel easily.
Since this is such a specialized item, you may not have one in your kitchen, but there is another alternative. You probably have a cheese shredder. This can be used for zesting your lemons as well. Just use the smallest holes available. Sprinkle zest over the food you are serving or leave a tiny heap beside the food.
Herbs come in two common forms, dried and fresh. Fresh are perfect for use as garnishes, although dried are useful too. If you grow your own, all the better!
Parsely is probably the most used garnish. It’s simple to use, just place a sprig on the plate and go! Chopped parsely can be sprinkled over a dish as well or mixed in. Rice can easily be spruced up by mixing in fresh or dried herbs. It adds flavor and color.
Other useful herbs include thyme, rosemary, sage, mint, and lemongrass. Of course, there are plenty more you can use, but these ones are useful for getting started. If you grow your own, you can use the flowers from these herbs to add an extra special touch.
For most herbs, just a sprig or two on the food or beside it is perfect. They are the fastest garnish to use!
Veggies can be used in much the same way as fruit. Slices of carrot, across or lengthwise, beets, or radishes make great garnishes. They can be cooked or fresh. To make a vegetable garnish more interesting, you might try scraping a zester down either side of the vegetable and then slicing it. This works especially well for dark-skinned vegetables with a light interior, like cucumbers. They will have stripes down the side of each slice.
You can also shred veggies and heap them to one side of the dish. Or cut notches into four sides and create flowers. Don’t underestimate whole vegetables. A line of peas between two foods or a whole radish to one side can be beautiful.
There are assorted other foods used as garnishes, your imagination is the limit. Here are a few to get you started.
Cheese can be grated and sprinkled over a dish. If you like, you can do this before cooking so the cheese is melted. Try a variety of cheeses. Feta can be crumbled and used as a topping or as a bed for food. Parmasan is a perfect topping. Cheddar can be sliced thinly and stamped into neat shapes with cookie cutters. Cottage cheese also makes a great side garnish.
Bread can be used to achieve several effects. Croutons are often used on salad, but why not on other dishes. Add some to a casserole or meat dish for variety. Or lay narrow strips of bread alongside a stew. Or add some bread sticks to your meal.
Don’t forget to try combining garnishes. For example, a slice of orange on a bed of lettuce is much nicer than just one or the other. Add a sprig of an herb to your veggie garnish or cheese to your fruit. Most of all, just keep experimenting. Your family will be pleased with the results, and so will you!Don’t forget