Garnishing food is as simple as a single fruit slice or as complicated as flying birds carved from vegetables. Whether you choose the former or attempt the latter, keep the garnish related to the dish. Add the garnish at the last minute for hot foods. Fruits, herbs, vegetables and edible flowers add color to food and tempt the appetite.
A lemon slice on a dish of grilled fish adds to visual and taste appeal. Form a bowl from a lemon half to hold a sauce for the fish. Cut five V shapes into a whole lemon equidistant apart and then into slices. The Vs form the lemon slice into a flower shape. Thread whole small fruits and berries alternating with herb leaves onto a skewer. Alternate slices of lemon, limes, oranges and half red grapefruit slices. Carve a swan out of an apple or turn it into a maple leaf.
Match the herb to complement the flavor of the food. If the herb is used in the dish, so much the better. Chop the herbs and sprinkle over the dish right before serving. Gather the herbs into a small bouquet and place on the plate. Compose the herbs into a still life. For example, place a few long strands of chives arching over sprigs of tarragon. Place a ruffled stem of parsley where the stems all meet.
Carve tomatoes into roses, cucumbers into lotus flowers and carrots into tulips. Or, for a more simplistic approach, curl carrot strips in ice water, notch radishes into chrysanthemums and cut daisies from turnip slices. Keep raw vegetables garnishes in ice water until you decorate the plate.
A roast on a bare plate doesn’t look nearly as attractive as when the plate is covered with greens. Kale with its ruffled leaves and deep green color provides an inexpensive garnish. Red chard with its red stems and veins is a more unusual garnish. If red chard isn’t available, choose beet greens instead. Serve a sauce in half a hollowed out cabbage head. Combine the greens with herbs and fruits for a more colorful garnish.
Only use flowers you know are edible. Those red roses from the florist may look stunning as garnish for a white frosted cake but they may have been sprayed with pesticides, fungicides or fertilizers which could make you or your guests sick. Obtain organic flowers, or blossoms sold as food quality. Growing your own is another option. Edible flowers include roses, pansies and nasturtiums.
Sauces enhance the flavor of the food but also garnish the plate. Swirl the sauce on the plate in a design. Combine two different sauces and pull them into each other with a knife. Put the sauces into squeeze bottles for better control.
References and ResourcesWhat's Cooking America: Edible Flowers
"The Art of Cooking Preparing and Presenting Fine Food"; Arnold Zabert; 1984
"Joy of Cooking"; Irma S. Rombauer et al.; 1972