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To garnish or not to garnish ..


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In responding to a post on why one ought to be concerned with how food looks, I found myself interested, yet again, in the subject of garnishes for presentation .. we do eat with our eyes, no? :rolleyes:

Garniture: Webster's 1913 Dictionary

Definition: That which garnishes; ornamental appendage; embellishment;

furniture; dress.

Now while I know most people don't bother with intricate Japanese carved garnishes in their everyday lives, my question is simply this: do you actually garnish your dishes for presentation to company??

Here on eG, Fergus Henderson said "the food speaks for itself" .... he said that in March of 2003, actually ...

If you are answering in the affirmative, what do you use? How do you make your garnishes? Are they well received? Worth the added effort?

Edited by Gifted Gourmet (log)

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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If you are answering in the affirmative, what do you use? How do you make your garnishes? Are they well received? Worth the added effort?

I would say that anything I use to "garnish" is actually a functional part of the dish. Do I decoratively use herbs, a sprinkling of fleur de sel, place parts of a dish in such a way that they are emphasized, etc.? Yes, but they are functional, does that discount them as garnishes?

I rarely carve radishes or make tomato flowers for effect but I do arrange to some extent for visual effect on some occasions.

I think attention to detail is important.

example, a mushroom on the market potager with quail :

i5540.jpg

Would that be a garnish? Not sure.

Edited by bleudauvergne (log)
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I also believe that a garnish should be an integral part of the dish.

If I paint a sauce on to a plate, it is because that sauce is part of the dish and one is meant to swipe through it.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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hmm .. interesting thread since I think I agree with you in principle re: presentation of food if not the detail. Basically I am sure I eat with my eyes ... and for evidence I would like to refer any one of numerous amazing photos to be found on eG nowadays. One that sticks in my mind recently is the one from bleudauvergne in her amazing thread on montignanc - it's the very first one where just the raw uncooked ingredients, unpacked after shopping can make me salivate like mad.

this one

Come to think of it - I eat with my taste buds, touch, sense of smell and even hearing as well! Food and cooking is just a major sensory experience for me!

so, yes I care whether the food is slopped on a plate, or whether it is well presented. BUT .. garnishes are a slightly different matter since to justify taking room on my plate, the ingredient (or other) must be there or flavour or interest. Otheriwse I just want more of the good food stuff.

Would examples help? Let's see -

random sprigs of crappy parsley on my cooked breakfast = BAD

swirl of cream and snipped chives on home made soup = ok, nice even

wedge of lemon (plain or fancy cut) to squeeze on fresh barbecue chicken or prawns = Yes please!

Carrots cut into shape of flowers or dragons or whatnot = whoa there! getting a little bit too fancy pants for me. Sorry.

Overall - simple presentation on white plates will pretty much win me over more often than not.

Having said that, that's for home cooking. When eating out, I have room for theatrics, as long as food is good as well! :smile:

Did any of that make sense? fear I may be rambling again ....

Yin

X

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i go to the other extreme--for example, before i cook chicken curry, i tattoo the list of ingredients onto the chicken's skin. well, actually, i don't. garnish for me means chopping onions/ginger/green chillies/cilantro up finely/coarsely and sprinkling them on top of a dish that needs them. when eating food cooked by more elaborate kitchens my preference is that everything on my plate be edible and tasty (ideally the plate would be too). recently our first anniversary cake was topped by a beautiful white "rose" (presumably this counts as a garnish). queried by the wife i said confidently, "there's no way a cake shop that good puts a non-edible rose on this cake, and if they did, they'd have told us--that's white-chocolate!"--she bit into it to discover yet again that while a layer of hard sugar frosting may make wax lickable, it doesn't make it edible.

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"there's no way a cake shop that good puts a non-edible rose on this cake, and if they did, they'd have told us--that's white-chocolate!"--she bit into it to discover yet again that while a layer of hard sugar frosting may make wax lickable, it doesn't make it edible.

Hmm, the flowers that my sis puts onto wedding cakes are "edible", but then there's edible and there's the stuff you really don't want to put in your mouth. But I believe all the ones her place gets (they outsource the flowers) are sugar paste. Very realistic, I must say. I've never heard her say anything about wax flowers.

I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.

--NeroW

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maybe it was wax flavored sugar? actually, i misspoke--this is why i should not post or do anything involving thought until at least 30 minutes after the first cup of tea. it wasn't actually the flower that was inedible--it was a little white disk that the flower was anchored to. wife reminds me that the flower was edible and tasty and that she ate it all with relish. but original point stands: why put anything inedible on top of yummy things?

Edited by mongo_jones (log)
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Personally as far as garnishes go, I like them, even if they're not functional, though they're better when they are.

well, with wedding cakes looks are almost everything. i would argue that a wedding cake is a garnish on a successful wedding. You don't really need it to get married, but it sure looks nice. Or maybe I'm saying a wedding is a garnish on the marriage? I'm sick at home, typing without glasses so forgive me...

There are tons of stuff they have to do with non-edible things to make your cake look good. there were probably plastic pillars in your bottom layer (I think) and I think they put the cake on cardboard so it doesn't fall or something. I feel fondant is in the barely edible category. However, my sis did make a cake for me with white chocolate fondant, lemon curd/cream filling that was excellent. I brought it to work and my ungrateful co-workers made a mess of it and basically trashed the cake she had sent me and only a couple said thank you. :angry:

I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.

--NeroW

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. . . why put anything inedible on top of yummy things?

One should not. Ever. Because someone will try to eat it, and could get hurt.

But still, as others have said, edible does not equal making a positive contribution to the dish. My pet peeve is the ubiquitous sprig of mint on dessert plates. :angry: I hated having to place it there, and I still hate having to push it out of the way (of course, I can just hand it to HWOE: if it's green and not moving under its own power, he will eat it. :biggrin::wub: )

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Garnish is nice at a restaurant, but at home I don't bother unless I am cooking for a special occasion. I think I actually somehow sparked this thread due to the conversation that evolved from the use of Springform vs. disposable aluminum baking tins in the Dad on Atkins thread.

Whatever I cook day to day usually doesn't look wonderful. I tend to cook a lot of braises, stews, and other nice one-pan meals that have tons of great flavor, but fall short on the looks. To me serving these up with fancy-pants garnishes would seem out of place. I suppose the mood could be enhanced by serving them in earthenware bowls, or nice old-fashioned crocks with big wooden spoons or something, but alas due to cabinet space constraints I have one set of dishes that do universal duty.

Although that brings up an interesting point, to me at least: Can the type of plate/dish upon which a dish is served be considered 'garnish' or is it a different part of overall effect?

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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Can the type of plate/dish upon which a dish is served be considered 'garnish' or is it a different part of overall effect?

I pay a lot of attention to the plates upon which I serve various foods ... I like the color of a glossy black, square plate against the gravlax or the sushi, which are now signature dishes ... I like a pure glossy white porcelain plate, in a shape other than round, to enhance my oriental meals ... simple, yet stark and pristine, which sets off the dish ... I eschew using my highly decorative and festive china pattern, which I received when I got married many years ago, because they are almost too colorful and detailed.

the pattern

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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I have to admit that I do garnish most things I prepare, even if cooking just for myself.

A dollop of sour cream sprinkled with chives is an integral part of a baked potato but in truth is a garnish.

I chop tomatoes, onions, chiles and cilantro nearly every day during the summer because this pico de gallo is good scattered on all kinds of things, omelets; eggs, potatoes and sausage or bacon; quesadillas; chops or steaks; soups and stews; chicken salad; and so on...

I grow shallots and slice and dry them. Crushed, they make a nice garnish on savory dishes or vegetable salads.

Toasted pumpkin or squash seeds added to salads.

I am not a big fan of mint but it has its place with some fruit salads. However I seldom add the ubiquitous sprig, I roll a few leaves and cut them in a chiffonade and sprinkle lightly over the salad.

Whole poached fruits are garnished with citrus zest, in shreds, not grated, in a contrasting color if possible; or with papaya seeds that can be saved from the fruit, washed, frozen and used when needed for a bit of crunch.

In pomegranate season I garnish salads, meats, fruits, etc. with the bright red bits, for color and for flavor.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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I hate garnishing with something that cannot be eaten, or would be unpleasant to eat. Like a goddam rosemary sprig...what the hell am I supposed to do with that? Even if the rosemary is consistent with the flavor of the dish, it does not have to sit there, stolid, waiting to be plucked off and thrown away. I can use that rosemary in something where it will be showcased and consumed. That is my two cents.

"Make me some mignardises, &*%$@!" -Mateo

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I take it that you garnish with rosemary sprigs?

"Garnish my celery?!" "Krusty, this isn't a joke!" "Who's joking!"

no, actually i don't--just trying to be helpful.

i cook with a lot of green cardamom pods though and so things like rosemary sprigs don't bother me as much. as for the mint leaves on sorbet and stuff--i like the aroma they impart but i never eat them either.

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I hate garnishing with something that cannot be eaten, or would be unpleasant to eat. Like a goddam rosemary sprig...what the hell am I supposed to do with that? Even if the rosemary is consistent with the flavor of the dish, it does not have to sit there, stolid, waiting to be plucked off and thrown away. I can use that rosemary in something where it will be showcased and consumed. That is my two cents.

You are so right! Your two cents is worth far more.

If it cannot be eaten, it should not be on the plate.

I grow a lot of rosemary because I love to cook with it. I have bundles of the long woody stems, stripped of leaves, in the freezer because they are wonderful skewers for kebabs, the flavor from the stem gently flavors the meat or vegetable.

If I am going to garnish something with whole rosemary leaves, I steam them briefly to soften them. (I have a small skillet with a tight fitting lid that does the job with little effort.)

Otherwise I chop them finely before sprinkling over the food.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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This reminds of that Jeffrey Steingarten incident where he chomped on the taro leaf garnish to his in-flight meal. The airline was lucky he didn't sue them!

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My favorite local Vietnamese restaurant almost always includes a fancy vegetable garnish on the pricier entrees (those in the $9-$15 range - it's not an expensive place to begin with). Usually it's a flower carved from carrot. They must serve quite a few of these every day. Is there a gadget of some sort that makes these or do you suppose they're just carved by hand? It's in the upper left corner of the plate shown below.

i4535.jpg

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Can the type of plate/dish upon which a dish is served be considered 'garnish' or is it a different part of overall effect?

I pay a lot of attention to the plates upon which I serve various foods ... I like the color of a glossy black, square plate against the gravlax or the sushi, which are now signature dishes ... I like a pure glossy white porcelain plate, in a shape other than round, to enhance my oriental meals ... simple, yet stark and pristine, which sets off the dish ... I eschew using my highly decorative and festive china pattern, which I received when I got married many years ago, because they are almost too colorful and detailed.

the pattern

Oh, but how pretty they are ("like Moorish palaces and Chinese pagodas," not that they're really like that, but that's me with the quotation compulsion, sorry). Spose this should really be on the other garnish thread, now that there is one, but anyway I think there are a lot of meals which lend themselves to a look of sumptuous overkill. Some of our fancy stuff in Gilgo is way more ornate than that, garish even, and you wouldn't want to use it for that day-to-day pork chop or hamburger - but it's fun for a party and a special meal, like breaking out your glad rags.

EDIT to add: for the most part I concur with those who don't use a garnish unless it's relevant to the food - sprinkling chopped chives on a bowl of cold soup. I must plead guilty, however, to the occasional profusion of parsley or rosemary sprigs purely for decoration. In my own defense, though, I don't ever do that on individual plates - just on a serving platter, where I think a certain amount of artistic license is fair game. The only instance I can think of where I use an inedible garnish (again ONLY on the serving dish) is at Christmas, when I make a nut roll (no verb there, wiseacres) which is presented on a long board, with powdered sugar (snow, don't you know) sifted over it and holly sprigs tucked around it. It's pretty, dammit! Is that so wrong? (Have picture somewhere - will dig it out and show later.) I am careful, however, to eliminate all holly from the servings before handing them around.

Edited by balmagowry (log)
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My favorite local Vietnamese restaurant almost always includes a fancy vegetable garnish on the pricier entrees (those in the $9-$15 range - it's not an expensive place to begin with). Usually it's a flower carved from carrot. They must serve quite a few of these every day. Is there a gadget of some sort that makes these or do you suppose they're just carved by hand? It's in the upper left corner of the plate shown below.

it is made with this gadget: Comes from Germany

i8615.jpg

Available from several online vendors. A bit overpriced, but handy

Edited by andiesenji (log)

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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The answer to your question on garnish gadgets...

how I lived without  this thing, I'll never know!!! :laugh:

I should have refreshed the page and read your message before posting mine.

I have a lot of garnishing tools, most bought at art supply stores - carving tools, long before there were sets specifically for garnishing.

One is my favorite for coring pears, apples, etc.

Do you have Chef Harvey's video?

Edited by andiesenji (log)

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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Do you have Chef Harvey's video?

No, not as of today .. but it might be of interest should I ever return to catering .. a not-very-likely choice for my future .... :laugh: ah, for the sweet days of youth with its enthusiasm and energy and ignorance .... :hmmm:

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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