T Minus Two Type Two Diabetes and Other Passions

1Apr/130

Garnishments

I had a cooking epiphany last night.

When I was a kid, my family didn’t eat out too much. When we did, it was likely to be drive-in burgers. But, once in a while, we would go to a “sit down” restaurant called King’s Food Host (see picture of the ACTUAL restaurant below). A hamburger platter from King’s came with a little sprig of parsley on it. My parents explained that the parsley was really there to add color and, though you could eat it, it wasn’t really intended to be part of the meal.

(Photo from http://restaurant-ingthroughhistory.com/2011/05/04/frenchies-oui-oui/. I find it astonishing that I found this.)

Nowadays, many chefs are offended by the notion that garnishes aren’t intended as part of the meal, and many recipes include garnishes. Even though I’ve sort of understood that it wasn’t true, I’ve usually translated “for garnish” on a recipe as meaning “optional”, and I’ve chosen to ignore it most of the time.

One of the things I cooked over the weekend was a chile corn chowder (from a recipe at http://www.food.com/recipe/chile-corn-chowder-284361). When I had a bowl of it last night, I wondered if some of the roasted red peppers I pickled a while back would be good. So I dug out a few pieces of the pepper, sliced them into largish pieces, blotted most of the brine off, and tossed them in my soup.

The peppers were delicious in the soup.They provided a contrast in flavor and texture, and they also provided a hit of freshness.

And it hit me. Garnishments aren’t about adding color (though they can certainly do that, too). Garnishments are about completing a dish by adding contrasting elements that would lose their value if cooked into the dish.

That’s important. And it can’t be accomplished by a sprig of parsley tossed next to the French fries.

I’ll probably continue to ignore garnishes from time to time, especially when they’re in the form of fresh herbs, which (other than a few basics I can buy loos) cost me $2.99 a pop at my grocery store.

But, I’ll be ‘garnishing as directed’ a lot more often.

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