August 9, 2020

Add a Finishing Touch

Garnishes go beyond making it look pretty.

There's one thing I’ve noticed fancy chefs do that home cooks rarely do: they add a finishing touch to each dish.

Yes, those garnishes look pretty. But they also make it taste better!

A dollop of lime crema, a drizzle of sesame oil, or a sprinkle of fried garlic contrast the flavor and texture of a dish. The folks at Milk Street appropriately call these finishing touches “embellishments”.

Here are some—not so revolutionary but oh so underutilized—ways to think about adding finishing touches to your food at home.

Brighten it up

Whether it is a few drops of vinegar or a dollop of lemony yogurt, acid makes your tongue more perceptive to other flavors. It’s a bit weird to say, but your food will taste more like itself. The way acid brightens the flavors around it is magical. There is a reason why you should never eat a taco without a squeeze of lime! 🌮

Add richness

A good finishing oil is one of the best ways to make something taste more satisfying. A drizzle of olive oil on seared salmon brings a touch of fruitiness. A few drops of truffle oil on your risotto gives you a punch of umami. And sesame oil adds nuttiness to a bowl of noodles.

Give it some crunch

Whether it is subtle, like flaky sea salt, or obvious, like tortilla strips, giving your food more texture makes it more interesting. So take the time to fry sage leaves or thinly sliced garlic. It’s worth it! Or sprinkle sesame seeds on top instead. That works too! 😋


From cucumbers to jalapeños to sliced radishes, a pickled vegetable is a 2-for-1 garnish. You get both acid and crunchiness. So top your tacos, fried rice, sautéed greens, potato salad, and so much more with a few pickled vegetables.

Where I learned this: Milk Street: The Art of Kitchen Improv class and Salt Fat Acid Heat