April 6, 2013 by Meg G.
I used to think that “garnish” was synonymous with “extra.” It was just a little something that was added to an already finished plate, for the sake of presentation. As a home chef, this felt silly and superfluous, much like Mr. Bean’s ridiculous gift wrapping in Love Actually. (Am I right?)
But over the last year or so, I’ve come to realize that garnish is so much more than the gift wrap. It can intensify flavor or introduce a contrasting one. It can also add texture and color to a less than inspiring dish. Take, for example, our root vegetable soup. Sure this was a tasty soup on its own, but its color and texture was pretty blah – essentially a beige-y purée. But, top it with parsnip “croutons” (intensifying the sweet parsnip flavor of the soup and adding a little bit of texture), fresh cilantro (for color and flavor), and julienned carrots (for crunch) and you’ve got an infinitely more interesting meal.
Garnish has a sweet side, too. Remember those doubly award-winning gingerbread cookies from this year’s Cookie Bake-Off? I would argue that the candied orange zest that topped those beauties totally sealed the deal. Sure, they were a delightful cookie with a scrumptious buttercream frosting, but I think they’d be about half as good without that crispy, sweet, citrus-y topping.
Speaking of candied zest, I decided to make some of my own after I spent way too long squeezing oranges for that totally-worth-it orange cranberry pecan coffee cake.
I figured if I was going to be elbow-deep in orange juice, I may as well be elbow-deep in some candied zest, too! It’s really quite simple. Just start by cutting off the rind of a few (preferably organic) oranges, removing as much of the pith as possible.
Chop it into whatever size and shape you prefer. I was feeling pretty lazy about it after all that juicing!
Then boil it in water for about 12-15 minutes. Drain off the water and retain orange zest.
Combine 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water and bring to a boil. Add the blanched zests and reduce heat and simmer until they are transparent, about 12 minutes. The syrup should thicken up during this time. Strain from the syrup and toss in about a half a cup of sugar and let them dry away from humidity.
I mixed my candied zest into some homemade granola, which I ate both as a snack and as a topping on my oatmeal. Yes, this zesty garnish was added to another garnish for extra oomph!
I also used it as a topping on some of our homemade vanilla ice cream. Yum!
So, have I convinced you? What is your favorite example of a garnish’s ability to elevate a meal? Do tell!