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Add Color and Crunch with Crispy Garnishes

Fine Cooking Issue 77
Photos: Scott Phillips
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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.
baking time
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.
baking time
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

Baking method

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 &
carrot strips
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

Frying method

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.


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