Swish. Swizzle. Sauces Everywhere!
Back in the day – ok, maybe it was last year or even last week – when we served a sauce of one sort or other, the main ingredients were often immersed in the sauce. Or else the sauce was ladled over the top. In either case, the dish sometimes turned out to be more about the sauce than anything else. Not that the results weren’t wonderful – certainly “comfortable,” and probably even delicious. It’s just that the sauce tended to steal the show. And if it wasn’t something like a stroganoff or marinara, that wasn’t necessarily a good thing.
We’ve all noticed how fine chefs today tend to “decorate” their dishes – especially their savory preparations – more than “sauce” them. We’ve all had our breath taken away, for example, when presented with an artistic impression of grilled scallops, or ahi tuna, or even chicken Marsala. You and I have both experienced the thrill of seeing the main ingredient resting on a “swish” or a “swizzle” of some sort of sauce. Or maybe decorated with a few “dots” of something colorful on the side.
The first few times I was presented with such a dish, my temptation was to think that these swishes and swizzles were simply decorative. And while they looked beautiful, I couldn’t imagine that they had much of anything to do with the main ingredient itself. My response was to “work around” the beautiful touches and get right to the shrimp or pork chop, or whatever was the “main event.”
One day I decided to sample the colorful swoosh on the bottom of the plate. I was amazed by the flavor I discovered – the flavor the swoosh lent to the dish as a whole. Suddenly I understood that the beautiful green swizzle under the ahi tuna was actually a wonderful wasabi aioli. And the brown dots surrounding the chicken breast and mushrooms were a marsala sauce.
The trend today is to build layers of flavor in any dish. This technique allows the main ingredients to shine, and yet somehow adds real dimension to the flavor of the dish as a whole. At its simplest, we might find roasted beets perched on a swish of balsamic fig vinaigrette, rather than being tossed and coated in a dressing; or braised pork chops presented with streams of a flavorful sauce on the side, instead of smothered in milk gravy. This trend seemed to begin with sweet dishes, like Panna Cotta served with hearts of raspberry sauce and cream on the side. Or flourless chocolate cake served on a swizzle of ganache. In cases like these, the main event was beautiful on its own. The little touches of color seemed to decoration more than anything else. But again, it only took one taste to realize that the pastry chef had used this “decoration” to create layers of flavor.
My question in this is: why should professional chefs have all the fun? Why can’t Home Chefs do the same thing? Yes, for a time the little swishes and swizzles seemed to belong to the professionals. But that’s no longer so. Home Chefs can enjoy the creative process – and build layers of flavor at the same time – by using some of the specialties they’ve created in their own kitchens. They can “swish” a pesto – or pumpkin hummus, tomato or onion jam, or Espresso aoli – under the main ingredients to create layers of amazing flavor. And their guests will leave their table feeling like they’ve just eaten in the finest restaurant in town.
So go ahead! Get creative. Start to “decorate” your main ingredients with layers of flavor. You’ll amaze yourself in the process. And you’ll amaze your guests even more!
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