55 Delicious Ways to Garnish your Food

Don’t worry, I’m not going to be waxing lyrical about tomato roses or butter sculptures!

food-plating
Whether you are a brilliant chef, a good home cook or prone to buying in ready-made here are loads of cunning ruses which can make your food more attractive (and therefore some would say easier to digest), more impressive, more delicious and generally more enjoyable.


Two important points before we start.

1.   In almost all cases it is best to add the garnish to a dish immediately before serving but if I think of an instance where this doesn’t apply I’ll mention it.
2.   It might seem obvious but do make sure the garnish compliments the dish; as lovely as a vibrant sprig of parsley may look it is rarely suitable, for instance, on a chocolate mousse. 

Garnishing with Herbs


According to their nature and the dish to be garnished herbs can be used as fronds, scattered leaves, little bunches, sprigs, chopped and sprinkled, chiffonade (finely cut shreds, see below) or even fried.


garnish food with fresh herbs, herb garnishes

How to prepare herbs ...

~   Make sure the herbs are clean and dry. ~   Use a large sharp knife, gather the herbs together on the chopping board and with the tip of the knife on the board use a rocking motion to chop the herbs with the heel of the knife.  Change the angle to chop more finely. 
~   In some cases a sharp pair of scissors works well and a trick to this is put the stripped herb leaves into a deep bowl or measuring jug and snip at them.
~   Chiffonade – aka fine shreds. This is especially useful for larger leaves such as basil or sage. It is quicker if you pile up a few of the leaves and slice them all together or with big leaves roll them up before slicing.
how to cut chiffonade

Edible Flower Garnishes


The flowers of many herbs are edible and can make a dish look stunning, especially the blue ones!



~   Chive flowers – these taste as one would expect; mildly oniony. Whilst the whole flower is very pretty for eating purposes it is better to pull the flower apart, gently, and sprinkle your dish with the petals.

~   Borage – beautiful with a light cucumber flavour these are great added to salads, sprinkled on cucumber friendly foods such as, say, cucumber and also make a pretty garnish for Pimms.

~   Wild garlic – I love this stuff which grows wild all over the place in April and early May, depending where you live. The leaves are useful in all sorts of ways,  read all about Wild Garlic here. The flowers are very pretty and entirely edible.

~   Lavender has a wonderful colour and a somewhat perfumey flavour which goes well with honey, summer berries and the sort of dishes that are served in Provence!

~   When adding rosemary to a dish why not add a few of the flowers too, they taste like rosemary!

Other flowers such as nasturtiums are also edible but is too wide a subject to go into here.

Fruit Garnishes


Of course, most fruits are bright, beautiful and gorgeous with no help whatsoever; for instance, a slice of star fruit or kiwi fruit, a perfect strawberry, a fragile physalis or a cluster of redcurrants.

garnish food with fresh fruits

If you use cut fruit brush the cut surfaces with a little lemon juice to stop it turning brown.

~   Try scattering pomegranate seeds on rice; looks good and adds great texture contrast.

~   A lemon, orange or lime wedge, slice or twist is a great garnish for seafood, desserts and drinks and if the diner squeezes them their juice can brightens the taste too.
grilled lemon garnish

~  When grilling fish a cut lemon half grilled alongside makes an interesting and delicious garnish - the warm lemon juice is perfect squeezed over the fish.




Vegetable Garnishes


Vegetable come in all sorts of lovely shapes and colours and just the way you cut them can make them look even better.


ideas for vegetable garnishes

~   Try slicing spring onions on a sharp diagonal.

~   When chopping parsley or other herbs mix in some very finely diced red and yellow pepper and red onion.

~   Using a potato peeler slice thin ribbons of, say carrot or courgette to swirl onto food (or use a spiraliser!).

~   Thinly, thinly slice red onion into half-moons and toss with freshly squeezed lemon juice, the onion will turn a stunning pinkish purple colour.

~   Grated vegetables such as carrot can add a shot of colour to a dish.

Some vegetables, cut thinly, will go interestingly curly if left in iced water for a little while, for instance ...

~   Carrot curls – using a potato peeler cut thin ribbons of carrot and drop into iced water.

 ~   Spring onion “flowers” – cut off the bulb end together with about 5cm of the onion. Using scissors cut into thin strips without cutting all the way through. Into the iced water they will curl like a flower.

 ~   Spring onion curls – after making the flowers cut the rest of the onions into 5cm lengths and then cut these into narrow strips and after a few minutes in iced water they will look like this.

 ~   Red and yellow pepper curls look brilliant but require a little more work. Cut the flat sides from a pepper and then carefully with your knife at a sharp angle remove the flesh from the skin (and save the flesh to use elsewhere – lots of ideas in my book Creative Ways to Use Up Leftovers, just saying!).  Cut the skin into narrow strips and drop them into the iced water till curly.

~   A stunning garnish can be made using this method and a bright red chilli. Carefully cut the chilli into narrow strips from the tip to the stalk end without cutting through the end. Remove and discard all the seeds and be prudent about where you put your hands till you have washed them. The chilli will blossom into a lovely “flower” in the iced water.

If drained well and kept cold these garnishes stay curled in the fridge till you need them.


Cooked vegetables can also be decorative as well as delicious ...
deep fried leek shred make a great garnish

~   Frazzled vegetables – strands or ribbons of an appropriate vegetable, such as parsnips, sweet potatoes or leeks, deep fried, make a wonderful crunchy garnish. See here for information on frazzling!

~   Crisply fried onions work well especially on steaks, burgers and so on.

~   Thick vegetable purée – say cooked peas (strained) or red pepper purée can be dotted about the plate – see dollops below.

~   Use a prime example of the main ingredient to garnish a dish as with these sautéed mushrooms on mushrooms soup (this is Mushroom, Garlic & Clotted Cream Soup from my book Soup (almost) the Only Recipe you’ll Ever Need).

mushroom soup with fried mushrooms and crouton garnish


Meat Garnishes


Meat isn't usually considered as a garnish(which is why I haven't assembled a collage of images) but why not? It can make a meal look more appealing, taste even better and is also a useful way of making a little meat go a long way.

bacon praline on maple syrup ice cream
~   Crumbled crunchy bacon is good sprinkled on all sorts of savoury things such as egg, chicken and fish dishes, into salads onto soups and on pancakes with maple syrup or maple syrup ice cream (and, ahem, there is a gobsmackingy easy recipe for Maple Syrup Ice Cream in my book Lush Ice Cream without a Machine).


~   Shredded meats of all sorts can be added to or scattered over salad, soup, pizzas and so on, but even better how about sautéing shreds of cooked meat (e.g. ham or chorizo) until crispy and then doing the aforementioned scattering.

~  Chicken and duck skin can be made into a delicious crunchy garnish - see here for details.


duck grattons made from duck skin, garnish


Cheese Garnishes


~   Parmesan cheese is a common garnish for pasta dishes but is good elsewhere too, or peel off slivers with a potato peeler. Here is some Roasted Garlic & Parmesan Soup with two garnishes - shavings of Paremesan and croutons (see below).


parmesan garnish, croutons

~   Blue cheese grates beautifully once frozen and is excellent shredded over risotto, for instance, or how about on steak?

~   Crumble crumbly cheeses over salads.


Crunchy Garnishes


I love to add something crunchy to a meal and it looks good too!

add texture to food, crisp garnishes, crunchy garnishes

~   Crunchy breadcrumbs - these are great sprinkled over creamy pasta dishes, some salads and anywhere a bit of crunch would be appreciated.  The easiest way to make them is to crumble (by hand, with a grater or in a food processor) some not too stale bread.  Season as you wish and then drizzle with enough olive oil to moisten the crumbs (but not too wet).  Preheat a dry frying pan and when hot toss and stir the crumbs in the pan till they are crisp and golden.  Drain on kitchen roll and sprinkle away. Take this one step further and make delicious Pangrattato

~   Panko crumbs work in the same way – just dry fry them in a hot pan few a minute or two to make them golden.

~   Crunchy shreds - flatbreads such as tortilla, poppadoms, wraps etc. can be cut into shreds (or wedges or other shapes) and fried briefly till crisp.  Drain on kitchen roll, season and use to garnish soups, salads, sarnies and what have you.

~   Croutons.  I have very firm views about croutons which are that they should be torn rather than cut. They are then interesting shapes which look pretty and also tend to be crunchier as they have more points and edges  Read all about making delicious croutons here.

~   Fairly plain cake, diced and fried in butter, can make a good crouton for adding to ice cream, fruit salad etc.

~   Croûtes are crisply fried or baked slices of bread.

~   Just chopped nuts, toasted or otherwise, can be a great flavour and texture counterpoint.


~   Seeds too!

Dollops!


Adding spoonful of a complimentary sauce or similar is another easy way to make a meal look and taste even better. 

a spoonful of something delicious, garnish

~   Sour cream goes well with spicy Mexican dishes and in appropriate soups.

~   Cream cheese (maybe slightly softened with the addition of a little cream) is great on tomato pasta dishes.

~   Plain, preferable Greek style yogurt is gorgeous with Indian curried dishes.

~   Mayonnaise for seafood, chicken and salads or try mustard mayonnaise with beef or, and I really recommend this, roasted garlic mayonnaise with salmon – see here for all sorts of flavoured mayonnaise ideas. 

~   Brightly coloured and flavoured salsas and sauces can also be dolloped to advantage.

 Drizzles and Swirls


A drizzle, swirl or even a few drips of a complimentary sauce or syrup can easily improve the look and taste of a dish.

garnishing food with sauces,dips and salsas

~   Balsamic Glaze – I used to make this long ago and far, far away but as it fills the kitchen with vinegary fumes, takes a while and is not particularly economical I now buy it from the supermarket.  It is excellent on all sorts of dishes; mushrooms, meats, polenta, hummus, salads, blue cheese being just a few examples. Just drizzle it over the meal with a gentle swinging motion et voila ...

~   Rich greeny/gold extra virgin olive oil looks and tastes good drizzled over many soups, salads and bean dips.

~   Honey and maple syrup are excellent on ice creams and over porridge, pancakes and many other dishes too.

~   Cream and sour cream can be used to make pretty patterns in soups. When I was chef at a yacht club where I knew all the diners I sometimes used to write the name of the punter or possibly a rude message in the soup!

~   Garnish a plate with a brightly coloured purée such as red pepper or green pea (or both - Christmassy!) or here’s a good idea – purée tog mango chutney and red pepper.

~   Thicker sauces such as chilled fruit coulis will hold their shape well enough to dot about the place effectively. 

~   Chocolate sauce of course!

~   To make heart shaped drops as with the Sticky Toffee Sauce in the picture run the tip of a toothpick through the centre of each drop.

Sprinkles


A suitable sprinkle is a quick and easy way to fancy up a dish and, luckily, sprinkly things come in a wide range of flavours and colours.

sprinkled garnishes

~   Just a coarse grinding of black pepper (or, even better, a mixture of red, green, black and white peppercorns) can make a plate look good and a meal taste better. When I first started doing this the waitstaff used to clean it off the plate before serving but I educated them!

~   Crunchy sea salt is a lovely addition to most savoury dishes and some sweet ones too (salted caramel for instance). Take this one step further by using a flavoured salt such as smoked or chilli or a pretty one like the Himalayan pink salt in the picture above.

~   A pinch of chilli powder, paprika or smoked paprika, as appropriate, adds colour and oomph to a meal.

~   Sumac is a lovely deep red spice with a lemony flavour which compliments fish and chicken and makes a great sprinkle on hummus. 

~   Grated chocolate (or a crumbled Flake!) is a boon on many desserts.


So, get garnishing!!



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