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How to garnish food

Entice little ones with a plate trimmed with fun gelatin cutouts and colorful carrot flowers — the list of eye-catching garnishes is endless.

In this article, we’ll show you how to add excitement to any food with eleven sections of creative garnishes. With easy-to-follow step-by-step instructions and clear how-to photos, you’ll soon progress from a basic radish fan to an impressive chocolate lead with ease.

Take lemons and make lemonade, or create beautiful decorations for your table. You can dress up anything edible — from a simple glass of water to a glazed pork main entree. Not only is citrus colorful, it also smells nice and is easy to work with. In this section, we’ll teach you how to create citrus knots, scored citrus slices, citrus loops, and candied citrus peels.

These garnishes are really creative. Transform a regular lemon or lime into a butterfly that will flitter along your dinner plate. Give the beautiful butterfly a flowery place to land by creating cherry flowers. Or, get even more creative with sugared flowers and fruit. There are always strawberry fans to cool off your shortcake or frosty beverages. Learn how to make these fun fruity garnishes in this section.

Chocolate is irresistible. What’s not to love? It tastes great, tricks the brain into releasing chemicals that make you happy, and it’s beautiful on the plate. Garnishing with chocolate takes a little bit of work, but it’s well-worth the effort. Chocolate curls, cutouts, and chocolate-dipped fruits and nuts are only the beginning. We’ll show you how to melt and pipe dark chocolate and white chocolate, as well as how to make white chocolate curls and cutouts.

Bell peppers are delicious vegetables. Many of the most bell peppers come in the stoplight colors of red, yellow, and green. When shopping for bell peppers, choose peppers that are evenly shaped and without blemishes to get the right results. In this section, we’ll teach you how to make bell pepper rings, baskets, triangles, and cups.

Bugs Bunny was famous for eating carrots. Carrots have been proven to be good for your eyes. They can also improve what your eyes see, especially with these great carrot garnishes. Learn how to turn a regular root into a variety of popular flowers. You can also curl carrots and make carrot stars. You can even use a tiny bit of caviar in one of the garnishes. Find out which one in this section.

Cucumbers and zucchinis are versatile. Their deep green colors add a lot of panache to everyday meals. Keep their outer green peel on the strips you peel — this line of color looks really good on the plate. Most cucumber and zucchini garnishes can be used interchangeably. Learn how to make cucumber and zucchini twists, ribbons, and flowers in this section.

Keep veggies in a bunch by tying them together. Garnishes aren’t just fun to look at — they’re also practical. Vegetable ties are great for buffet meals so guests can easily pick up as many carrots as they want. In this section, we’ll show you how to make different kinds of vegetable garnishes. The vegetables and techniques vary: from radish fans to julienne carrots and turnips, so you’ll want to read it to know how to do a little of everything.

Most people go straight to the watermelon’s juicy red interior and immediately discard the shell. The same is true of pineapple. It’s pretty common to scoop out the tangy yellow fruit and toss the spiky shell. The garnishes in this section recycle the outer casings for both fruit, turning them into delightful baskets and boats. Learn how to make fruit basket garnishes in this section.

Dairy garnishes are fun and surprising. Yes, we’ve all been to nice hotel breakfasts that played host to butter pats carved into pretty shapes. We’ll teach you how to make butter shapes in this section. You’ll also learn some more unexpected uses for dairy. Most people eat hard cooked eggs, but we’ll show you how to turn them into charming egg chicken garnishes. We’ll also teach you how to pipe cream cheese in this section.

The French term Garni gave rise to what we now know as garnishing (literally to decorate or embellish) – a technique to finish a dish that’s embraced worldwide in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways.

When you put the finishing touches to a dish, bear in mind that a garnish can be used to add flavour or a decorative colour. If it’s for flavour, the garnish ingredient should work with the taste of the dish.

There are many types of garnishes. They can take the form of leafy sprouts, herbs, sauces or a jus. They may be croutons for salads or soups, or julienned vegetables or bacon bits sitting atop a dish.

Simple ideas include sliced candied lemon on a cheesecake or tomato on a pasta dish. Even a sprinkling of seeds on a dessert can be a garnish. A dash of oil around a main or chives sprinkled on seafood make a perfectly adequate finish. And don’t forget fresh fruit with cocktails.

Garnishes don’t always have to be edible, they can be flowers, or in the case of sushi the plastic grass leaf (baran). Just make sure your garnish is in proportion and adds balance.

If it’s not a sauce, you should always make the garnish removable, as not all diners actually like to eat it. Garnishing is also dependent on what type of dish you are serving – a hot dish, cold plate, a buffet or a dessert. Just step back from your dish – take a look and see if it’s visually working.

Keep your garnish simple. The adage of less is more is relevant in this situation. Plate your garnish with a light hand and take inspiration from nature. Be inspired by colours that reflect seasons and make use of shades of light and dark.

Vegetable garnishes can be made to last by flash-boiling then blanching in an ice bath for about a minute. Others you will need to keep the air away from and store in ice water, whilst some should be stored at room temperature.

Anyone prepping garnishes should always have these tools at their disposal: A corer, piping bag, knives (pairing and utility), a melon baller, scissors, skewers and toothpicks.

As a rule, garnishes should add a layer of texture and excitement to your dish and makes sense with the dish they are served with. Think of them as an understated wow factor.

To garnish or not? That is the question. Some chefs despise having anything on a plate but the essential food; others garnish with something that reflects the flavors on the plate; still others are regular users of creative license, drizzling, dropping and sprinkling the plate with a myriad of sauces, spices and eye–catching accouterments.

“There is some controversy on whether or not garnish needs to be functional,” says Phillips. Non-functional garnishes, such as a large sprig of rosemary, cannot be eaten. However, if a chef uses the rosemary to flavor a sauce that complements the dish, it is considered by some an appropriate garnish.

Onsite operators need to consider more than the individual plate when garnishing. The serving area itself is a major concern.

“Onsite can be a tough environment because what you use to pretty up the food can easily become unappealing after sitting in a steamtable service area for too long, says Caludia Sutherland, president of “When the Mood is Food, Inc.,” a Minneapolis–based food consulting company.

“Fresh or dried herbs that are a great garnish in some situations can start to look limp and bedraggled after 15 minutes under hot steamtable lights.”

Sutherland advocates experimenting with different garnishes like colorful spices (paprika) or crunchy components like potato chips, chow mein noodles, corn flakes or toasted nuts and breadcrumbs which when sprinkled on top not only impart texture but color as well.”

Another suggestion: at each station have a log book or clipboard handy whereby line staff can record the life of the garnish through a day’s service. For example, from 10:00 to 11:00 it looked great; from 11:00 to 12:00 it started to fall apart; from 12 – 1:30 it looked dead.

The simplest rule of thumb for garnishing on display cooking stations is to re-garnish. Though Sutherland recommends using garnishes that are components of the recipe, she feels more strongly that the items should not be a “disconnect” from the formula itself. For example, “I go crazy when food is garnished with things that do not apply to the actual recipe, for example, when I see mint leaves around a chocolate raspberry torte. There’s no mint in that torte so I don’t feel it belongs on the plate.”

Keep the food in the serving pans looking as appetizing as possible. This is a simple concept, but one that is often overlooked.

“Take a favorite—macaroni and cheese—and train staff to scrape the crusty edges and turn them back into the main dish often—perhaps after each serving is dished out,” advises Sutherland. The same can be said of other foods for different reasons.

For example: bowls of sauced noodles need to be constantly turned, not only to distribute ingredients, but to keep the noodles moist and enticing to the eye. Large pre-dressed salads, like Caesar, need to be tossed and refreshed often.

For a touch of whimsy, creative line staff can be taught simple garnishing techniques. When serving a hamburger, why not take an extra minute, engage the customer by asking if they would prefer ketchup or mustard and then squeeze two zig zags of the requested condiment on the side of the plate?

“Where does it say we have to give mustard packs? Why not drizzle the plate with it? asks Sutherland. “You can do this with anything you can put in a squeeze bottle that keeps its integrity,” says Sutherland.

Another simple trick: “keep a separate bucket of fresh herbs nearby (not under the heat lamp) to sprinkle on the plate or on top of entrees. This simple technique adds an extra touch and a hint of fresh, green flavor,” says Sutherland

On the deli counter: “consider something as simple as putting deli salads on a bed of shredded lettuce or red cabbage (as opposed to a single lettuce leaf which tends to look limp),” says Sutherland.

“This tells the customer it has been cleaned and that its fresh and crisp. Use the same fresh herbs in the bucket to sprinkle on top of creamy salads, or sprinkle them with vegetable confetti: chopped colored peppers or carrots and yellow peppers—“even a teaspoon sprinkled onto salads will add value,” says Sutherland.

“I realize in high volume serveries they’re not going to have the time to carefully place garnishes. But how long does it take to take a pinch of nice fresh green herbs and sprinkle it over a casserole or around the edge of the food in the center of the plate?” says Sutherland.

Keep in mind that garnishes used properly can be profitable, while unnecessary garnishes are costly. Many plates do not need garnishing if they are full and the food itself possesses all the color necessary. When a garnish is needed, it should be planned into the plate layout and its cost should be included in the menu price planning.

You can master the art of the memorable meal by learning how to make elegant garnishes. If you are looking to learn how to garnish, you have come to the right place.

Learning about food garnishing will help turn your plate presentation from ordinary to extraordinary. Beautiful garnishes are the defining details that will make your meals look extra attractive and will make your guests feel special.

You Will WOW your Guests when You Learn How to Garnish

When you present your food with lovely garnishes, you will definitely hear Oooohs and Aaaahs from your delighted guests. You guests will take notice and will often tell their friends.

Whether you are a professional chef, caterer, food stylist or simple love to entertain at home, learning how to garnish will make your meals stand out as something special and memorable.

Learning about food garnishing need not be difficult. It does not require going to expensive culinary schools. With Nita’s easy to follow, step by step video lessons, learning how to garnish is easy and fun. And, you can easily learn starting right now.

Sign in for a free video lesson now.

You can also learn more about Nita’s Vegetable and Fruit Carving 101 Course for Beginners which teaches lots of different garnishes and more.

Hi Nita, I received my DVDs Monday and on Tuesday began carving.I made the radish bouquet, a watermelon flower and some turnip flowers. I am quite happy with the results. Just on a side note I have been cooking professionally for over 30 years and have always wanted to learn this skill. i should be through the 11 week course by the end of November and am looking forward to learning advanced carving. Thanks, Michael Mattia.”

Garnishes can be large or small. They can adorn a plated meal or be the centerpiece of a platter. Garnishes can be as simple as some finely chopped herbs dusting a plate or a twisted lemon slice on a serving of fish.

In this video we discuss how to garnish food and some concepts to take into consideration when planing a completed dish. This video was inspired by a question posted by a YouTube viewer regarding our “Composed Cauliflower Soup” video.

YouTube User nvj944 asks: “When doing this ‘pour in presentation’ what’s the trick to the garnishes? Are there some that work better than others. Also, the sliced cauliflower doesn’t float right? So, you need to use a wide, shallow bowl otherwise the soup would cover up your beautiful presentation.”

First, let’s address the serving vessel and the issue with the soup covering the garnishes, which honestly isn’t really an issue at all. Part of the “drama” that comes with serving a composed soup is the vanishing garnishes; a plate that was made purely for the pleasure one gets from looking at it, and then covered table side before being consumed.

As far as choosing appropriate garnishes, that’s what this video discussion is really all about.

When choosing garnishes it is important to first identify the primary ingredient which all other garnishes will enhance. Once the primary ingredient is identified, start choosing garnishes that have complimentary flavors, colors and textures. In the example of the cauliflower soup above, the puree is a smooth consistency which can become quite one dimensional and boring after a few spoonfuls. When the same flavors and textures are tasted over and over, this quickly leads to “palate fatigue” and your primary ingredient becomes much less interesting bite after bite.

Properly chosen garnishes can prevent palate fatigue by introducing contrasting textures and complimentary flavors. When choosing complimentary flavors, take into consideration the overall texture and flavor profile of your primary ingredient. The pureed cauliflower soup contains fat in the form of cream and butter, which, while offering a nice mouth feel, fat is also known to coat the palate and deaden other flavors. This “deadening” effect can be countered by adding “brightness” in the form of acid (think vinegar, citrus, etc.), and/or by adding a little kick through the application of spice, in this case, togarashi.

Three Rules For Garnishing a Plate

  1. Garnishes should always be functional. If you can’t eat it, it doesn’t belong on the plate. There are a few exceptions like skewers and specialty utensils, but these exceptions are few and far between.
  2. Garnishes should always enhance the primary ingredient. If the garnish doesn’t enhance the flavor of your primary ingredient then it doesn’t belong on the plate.
  3. Garnishes should always add contrasting colors, textures and overall interest. If too many components on a single plate share the same color tone, then your plate will look flat. Try to use garnishes with contrasting colors and textures that don’t break the first two rules.

This video also recommends the use of “The Flavor Bible” for inspiration in finding complimentary ingredients when coming up with a new dish.

The list can go on, but instead, what are your ideas? How can you take fresh pasta and turn it into your own unique dish? Let me know in the comments!