Years of restaurant work have taught me that the finishing touches are what make a dish truly special. When I cook at home, I usually finish dishes simply with a sprinkling of fresh herbs, but when I want to put an exclamation point on a dish, I’ll top it with a crisp garnish, like fried shallot rings or baked fingerling potato crisps. Garnishes like these add a wonderful texture and flavor to the dish, and they give it a dressy look.
Here’s how to add a little restaurant drama to your own cooking.
Baking produces crisps with lovely ruffled edges
|Garnish||Beet crisps||Fingerling potato crisps|
|Amount (for 3-4 servings)||1 medium beet||2 small fingerlings|
|How to prepare for baking||Scrub, trim ends (don’t peel), slice 116 to 18 inch thick, and toss with canola oil and kosher salt to coat lightly.||Scrub (don’t peel), slice 116 to 18 inch thick, and toss with canola oil and kosher salt to coat lightly.|
30 to 40 minutes
20 to 25 minutes
|Pair with…||Salads, chicken or pork stews or braises||Stews or braises or as a base for canapés (like a swatch of smoked salmon and a dab of crème fraîche on top of a crisp)|
|Garnish||Apple crisps|| Shiitake crisps
(a.k.a. “shiitake bacon”—you must try it to believe it)
|Amount (for 3-4 servings)||1 medium Granny Smith apple||15 to 20 medium-large shiitakes|
|How to prepare for baking||Slice 18 inch thick (don’t peel or core but do discard seeds), and toss with canola oil and light brown sugar to coat lightly.||Remove stems, slice caps 14 inch thick, and toss with canola oil and kosher salt to coat lightly.|
45 to 60 minutes
20 to 25 minutes
|Pair with…||Apple pie, ice cream, cake, pork stews||Salads, baked potatoes, pizza, Asian braises, stews, stir-fries|
Heat the oven to the appropriate temperature. Line a heavy-duty baking sheet with a Silpat (see Where to Buy It, p. 76) or parchment.
Spread the prepared garnish in a single layer on the baking sheet. Use a second sheet if necessary.
Bake until the garnish browns and crisps (see the chart above for approximate times). Some pieces may brown faster than others so remove them from the oven as they’re done, leaving the others in to finish browning. Apples won’t fully crisp until cool.
Let cool to room temperature, and then store in an airtight container for up to 2 days.
Frying gives jaunty curves and an extra crisp texture
|Garnish||Fried Sage & Parsley Leaves (flat or curly)||Frizzled leeks|
|Amount (for 3-4 servings)||10 to 12 leaves||1 medium leek|
|How to prepare for baking||Stem, rinse, and pat dry.||Trim and discard dark green tops. Thinly slice white and light green parts into 3-inch-long julienne strips. Rinse in a bowl of water to remove grit, drain, and pat dry. .|
|Pair with…||Pastas and grilled or roasted meats, risotto||Sautéed or roast pork, chicken, or beef tenderloin, braised short ribs|
|Garnish|| Fried parsnip &
|Fried shallot rings|
|Amount (for 3-4 servings)||2 medium carrots and 2 medium parsnips||3 to 4 medium shallots|
|How to prepare for baking||Peel and then (using the peeler), shave into thin strips. Fry carrots and parsnips separately.||Peel, thinly slice crosswise, separate slices into rings, dredge in flour, and shake off excess.|
|Pair with…||Braises and stews, especially those that have root vegetables like carrots or parsnips as a base||Thai or Indian curries, baked potatoes, braises, stews|
Choose a small (2-quart) saucepan, preferably with tall sides. Add enough neutral-flavored oil, like peanut, vegetable, or canola, to reach a depth of about 1 inch. You’ll need about 2 cups of oil for a 612-inch-wide pan. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the saucepan.
Heat the oil over medium-high heat until it’s between 325º and 350ºF. Reduce the heat to medium or medium-low to hold the oil in this temperature range.
Add a small handful of the prepared garnish to the oil. (Caution: the oil will bubble up immediately, especially with sage and parsley leaves. Always fry in small batches to avoid overcrowding the pan and to prevent boil-overs.)
Fry the garnish, stirring often with a metal slotted spoon, until the oil is barely bubbling and the garnish is light golden brown, 1 to 3 minutes. (The oil temperature will drop when you add the garnish; let it return to the starting temperature before frying the next batch.)
Lift the garnish from the oil using the slotted spoon, tap against the side of the pan to drain off excess oil, and transfer to a large plate or a baking sheet lined with a couple of layers of paper towel. Gently shake on the paper towel and then slide the garnishes onto the paper towel below it, discarding the oil-soaked top layer.
Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt while still hot.
Let cool to room temperature. If not using right away, store in a sealed container. Fried garnishes can be stored for a few days, but they’ll taste their best when made no more than 4 hours ahead.