In this the digital age, it becomes more compelling than ever to have a picture-perfect dish. Professional chefs are competing for potential customers on all forms of social media. They always have to bear in mind their “artwork” could be shared among hundreds, if not thousands. It makes average homecooks harder to stand out as most won’t have the top-notch culinary art skills.
We do eat with our eyes first. It is much more than a cliche. Researches have shown that visual stimuli can indeed alter the perception of taste, smell and flavour. If you are an average homecook, what can you do NOW to elevate the presentation of your food?
Sometimes, less is more. Here are three simple garnishing tricks you can easily learn, as a starter, with eye-popping results:
I. Green Onion Flowers
Green onion is a common ingredient for garnishing. Just sprinkling some finely diced green onions over a steamed seafood dish and it will brighten with freshness. To create a little “wow” factor and add a tad of sophistication, you can use the green onion flowers instead.
Cut the green part into 1” or 2” long segments. Use a pair of scissors to cut tiny strips at each end of the segment. Do not cut through though. Place in ice water until all the ends curl up.
Knife skills plays an essential role in food styling. Chopping fast is only part of it. The ability to run a sharp knife across and around any surface will open up your creative and imagination. As complicated as it looks, turning a tomato or a strawberry into a rose requires minimum skills. All you need is a sharp knife.
A. Tomato Roses: Have you ever tried peeling an apple in one long, spiral strip? It is the same technique you need to make tomato roses. Let’s use a cherry tomato as an example.
1. Hold the cherry tomato firmly, bottom up, between your thumb and index as well as middle fingers.
2. Press the sharp end of a paring knife into and across the bottom but do not to cut through. Keep the blade just under the skin.
3. Guide and limit the movement of your knife using your thumb as you rotate the cherry tomato. Continue peeling around the tomato until the end.
4. Lay the peel out on a flat surface. Roll up from the bottom end TIGHTLY and then loosen up as you continue until to the narrow end. Use your fingers to shape your rose to your liking.
5. To finish up, use herbs like mint as “leaves”.
Note: You may use bigger tomatoes instead. It actually will be easier as you first start practicing. If you are worried about breaking the peel, it is okay for you to cut a bit deeper into the flesh. You can take off the extra flesh later before rolling up the skin. Yes, it is cheating but it is OKAY as long as you get your rose!
B. Strawberry Roses:
This is a very popular idea. Different variations. Basically, for this to work, you do have to pick a strawberry with the right shape. Avoid those flattened ones with two tips. Pick those big ones with a rounded tops and curvy tips. You can use this for cakes or salad.
1. Hold the strawberry upside down.
2. Carefully, press the edge of your knife into the strawberry on the surface facing you. Following the curvy surface, leaving part of the tip end uncut. And, do not cut through. Imagine this is the petal. Repeat this on all sides.
3. Then, you want to repeat the same process for the inside layer. This time, start the cutting in between two “petals” of your first layer. This will be harder to do. You may have to tilt your knife at an angle. Keep doing alternate layers until you cannot create any more layers.
4. To finish this off, cut open the tips with very tiny strips. These are the stigmas. If your feel it is too challenging to use a knife to do so, just use a pair of scissors.
III. Herb It Up
One of the rules I followed for garnishing is: Always use the ingredients that are part of the dish. Ideally, the taste of the garnishes should blend in with other ingredients, creating a harmony.
Take a look at these chive rings. It is one of my earliest attempts to add elegance to a very homey dish – Stuffed Chicken Wings. All needed to be done is to bend the chive flower into a circle and cross the ends to form a ring, like tying your shoelaces. It can be used for fish rolls too.
Here’s another example. The concept of these scoops of mini steak rice comes from sushi. The dish is a symbolization of flourishing with wealth, like flower blossom. Rosemary and steak are natural partners. Instead of chopping and sprinkling rosemary on steak, the rosemary leaves are kept intact and arranged as if they are “budding” from the golden soil.
Twisting and bundling herbs allow endless possibilities. Let your creativity fly away!