Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Plating Tricks

One of the more clever tricks that a talented home cook can learn from chefs is the idea of layering things on a plate beneath the main dish.

It's easy enough to sprinkle stuff on top but doing so beneath where it lies invisible involves a little bit of understanding. This is a technique that can only work for dishes that are more or less constructed in the French manner. It wouldn't work for Chinese cooking, for example, which has an entirely different aesthetic in terms of serving.

When we eat something, we inevitably press down (knives + forks) or we scrape (spoons). Either way you are literally touching and pressing down against the bottom of your plate. Compare with chopsticks where you lift away from the plate.

The idea then is that you can subtly enhance the flavor in ways that are entirely unobvious.

For example, you can put a dry powder at the bottom of a plate on which you serve a salad. The powder if suitably dry and crunchy will not only adhere to the greens as the fork presses down but hit the tongue first because of the way the salad is eaten. You will get a "hit" of a crunchy nature that constrasts with the salad.

A similar related idea is that of a gastrique served beneath meat and seafood dishes. It's a sweet-sour reduction that will adhere to the meat as you cut it. (Pressure on the fork; knife does the work.)

It's theatrical magic but entirely simple once you understand the trick that makes it tick. It's a pretty general concept only limited by your imagination. Two ideas are presented below for your delectation.

Almond Breadcrumbs


12 blanched almonds
1/3 cup breadcrumbs


Roast the almonds in the oven at 350°F for about 12 minutes. Make sure they don't burn. Chop fine.

Process the almonds, breadcrumbs and salt to a fine powder in a coffee grinder or a food processor.

Orange Gastrique


1 cup orange juice
2 tbsp. vinegar


Combine and reduce at medium high heat until thickened. Be careful that it doesn't burn.

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