This is a post for all food bloggers who a) don’t have an assistant to prepare little bags of chopped herbs for you each week b) don’t want to do emergency store runs just to get parsley and c) get sick of using parsley all the time!
There’s been a few weeks in a row of blog growth posts so today I want to pull back and do something more light hearted. And next week I’m going to be back with a pretty powerful post about how you can earn as much – if not more – for sponsored posts as the “power bloggers” with just a fraction of their traffic (~10 – 15%). I bet that piqued your interest! If you haven’t already, you better sign up to the FBC Mail List so you don’t miss it!
A few weeks ago, I asked FBC Facebook Group members what their photography challenges were so I could make sure that I specifically covered off those areas in my book. Here’s the thread here, in case you are interested – it’s not too late to add something, but you need to be quick because I’m pretty close to finishing my book! (Note: You need to be a member of the group to read the thread – join here!)
One of the topics that came up was garnishes. Yes, I cover it in my book, but nowhere near as much as I have to say about garnishes! Here’s the question that was asked by a member:
“The top 5 (or 10 or 15 or however many!) best garnishes to always keep on hand. I ALWAYS forget those! And I’m kicking myself because I’m getting ready to photograph a creamy pasta without any green garnish”
When I started out, there were numerous occasions when I had to make an emergency run to the grocery store because I was convinced that the whole world would come to an end if I didn’t sprinkle my pasta with parsley. After all, one of the most common styling tips you read is: garnish, garnish, garnish!
What I didn’t always read was tips for how to get organised and also to get creative. I don’t know about you, but I get sick of using the obvious garnishes – parsley and other herbs!
So here are my top tips for getting on top of your garnish game!
TOP GARNISH TIPS
1. Store bought dried parsley – This is my #1 tip. It is super handy for emergency situations, and I bet you can’t pick which of my recipes I’ve used it for! It’s pretty green and you’d have to look really closely at photos to realise it’s not fresh! Choose a brand with the largest pieces (some brands chop it so finely, it can look like green dust).
Tip: Dial up the green slider when editing just a teeny tiny bit to make it seem greener!
2. Frozen curly leaf parsley (and other herbs) – This is something I use for many photos! 😉 Chop up curly leaf parsley and freeze it in small ziplock bags. It stays nice and green! Then sprinkle from frozen onto your food.
Why curly leaf parsley rather than flat leaf? Well, I find flat leaf parsley tends to stick together, making it impossible to sprinkle straight from the freezer but you can’t defrost either because it becomes wet i.e. falls in clumps on the food.
This works for other herbs like rosemary, thyme and other herbs where they won’t freeze into hard clumps.
3. Ingredients in the recipe – One of my favourite garnishes is using ingredients in the recipe itself. I know it sounds weird to say that! But it’s more than about pulling out bits of the food onto the surface to ensure you can see every key ingredient. It’s about keeping aside some of the actual ingredients and sprinkling them on at the end to create colour, freshness and interest on the surface by using them as garnish.
So for example, rather than stirring all the sun dried tomatoes through the creamy sauce in the Chicken photo below, I reserved some and sprinkled it over the chicken as garnish for the photo.
This works particularly well with: peas, corn, red onion and other ingredients that are colourful. Especially with peas because they tend to go brown when cooked, so just blanch them (I just put them in a small bowl with boiling water) and use those as garnish!
4. Get a “disposable” herb pot plant – I don’t know about you, but here in Sydney you can buy small herb pot plants in plastic pots at supermarkets for a couple of dollars. They last a helluva lot longer than bunches of herbs so you could get one specifically for garnishes only.
5. Scallions / shallots – The fridge shelf life of shallots is far longer than most herbs. I always ensure I have shallots in my fridge. Pretty much anything I make that is even vaguely Asian, or heck, even if there’s just soy sauce in the recipe, I feel like I shallots make a suitable garnish!
6. Sesame seeds – You’ll be surprised how handy sesame seeds are to have on hand! Similar to shallots, they definitely suit anything with an Asian influence. Or actual real Asian food!
7. Salsa – I know this might sound odd, but salsa can make a great garnish! An example is below. I was stumped for what to use as garnish for the Baked Ricotta. Herbs wouldn’t cut it, it would look too sparse and obvious sprinkled on the surface. I needed something more interesting and to add a serious pop of colour into an otherwise very “yellow” and brown set.
Chopped up tomatoes was the answer! It added height and colour. It had absolutely nothing to do with the recipe, though I did end up incorporating it otherwise it was too staged.
Don’t just think tomatoes! Corn, avocado, red onion, herbs, cucumbers – you’re only limited by your imagination!
8. Lemons and limes – I always, always have a stash of both in my house (yes, even when limes are $10/lb like they are in winter in Australia!). I am obsessed with both because I use them for dressings, plus I love South East Asian and Mexican food which frequently use lime.
So wedges of limes and lemons feature frequently in both my photos and recipes. But don’t restrict yourself to just wedges! Slices are fabulous too! I love using caramelised slices of lemons and lime (and oranges!) in my photos. Just pan fry them in a bit of oil until golden.
9. Flakes of salt – Especially for close up shots, flakes of salt make a fab garnish! Don’t you think? (I could SO go
one ten of these wings right now…)
10. Frozen red chilis – Seriously. Chilis freeze SO WELL. And you can either grate them (from frozen) to garnish your food with chili dust OR slice them.
Red chilis are gold to have on hand. They add a fabulous pop of colour and gives hints about the recipe!
To complete this post, I thought I had better include a list of the more more common garnishes too!
- Parsley and every other herb imaginable, leaves or chopped
- Drizzle of sauce / dressing (get a squeeze bottle to make zig zags!)
- Dollop of sauce accompanying the dish (eg. yoghurt, sour cream)
- Grated parmesan
- Garnishes that are an actual part of the recipe, like pangrattato. As opposed to parsley, which is definitely NOT an essential garnish for a recipe!
- Icing sugar (confectionary sugar), strawberries, fruit/ingredients in a recipe for desserts and cakes
So there you have it! My “real persons” tips to make your garnish life easier and to avoid emergency store runs mid shoot. I’m sure there are plenty more ideas and I’d love to hear what your standby garnishes are!
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Thanks for reading! – Nagi x