Last night, I enjoyed a rather muted Burns Night supper. You will know this of course if you follow any of my social media accounts as I was not quiet about it. As well as Haggis, I tried the veggie alternative (I’m sorry, it’s just not as good), fake neeps and tatties, finished off with a handful of shortbread. There was no piping of the haggis, Scottish poetry or whiskey, but I had a good time none-the-less.
Having scrolled through social media after I had eaten, it is clear I was not alone in my Burns Night In. Several people had posted their own offerings for supper, each looking just as delicious as mine.
That is, until I came across the Haggis post of a friend who shall remain nameless. She had the traditional haggis, the neeps and the tatties, or at least, I think she had those things. Because over her supper she had sprinkled a pile of green stuff. Yes, she had garnished her Burns supper and I was suitably horrified.
Hopefully if my friend reads this she will know our back and forth was in jest, but that has not stopped me thinking all day about the idea of garish more generally.
I don’t mind admitting I hate garnishes. Put a plate of food in front of me, no matter how delicious it smells, and the sight of a garnish will see my heart sink.
The normal people amongst you are probably wondering what on Earth I am writing about? You are probably wondering why I have spent the day thinking about garnish, and more important why I have spent my timing writing this blog post?
Of course, you are correct, I should not get so worked up about garnish. It is just an additional little flourish to present meals after all, I should not let it get to me so much. But it does. As I said today to another friend (who just happens to be the first friend’s husband), hatred of garnish is the hill I choose to die on, and for the rest of this post I aim to convince you of the same.
What are you hiding?
My first thought on seeing garnish, after horror and revulsion, is to wonder what the unwanted leaves are hiding.
Consider this; if you had slaved over a hot stove, creating a beautiful meal which not only tastes delicious but looks appetising as well, would you not want to show of your creation to the maximum?
Alternatively, if there is something wrong with the meal, a burnt edge for example, would it not make sense to try and hide the failures as much as possible. Yes, you could try cutting off the burnt bits, but this can only go so far until nothing more can be removed. What are you to do when presenting your food? The answer is garnish.
It might sound silly, but the more you think about it the more it makes sense. Garnish is a perfect way to hide the flaws in your food, either by covering the burnt bits or else distracting you with the unnecessary green so you pay less attention to the flaws. Garnish might not be used ever time to hide the flaws in the meal, but how am I to know that is not the case…?
Can I eat it?
After a thorough inspection of my food for all the flaws I would otherwise have been willing to ignore, my next thought is can I eat the green muck piled on top of the food.
Most of the time the answer will probably be yes, garnish is edible, even if it does not taste of anything or worse, but I do not know for certain whether it is edible. When I should be tucking into my delicious meal, I am left with a dilemma worthy of the greatest moral philosophers. If I eat the garnish, I may well be eating something inedible or otherwise committing a culinary faux pas. If I pick of the garnish and leave it to the side, it takes time, I look picky and may well upset the cook who for some unfathomable reason has chosen to put the garnish there in the first place.
Think about it for even a moment and you can see adding a garnish is putting your diner in an impossible position for no obvious gain.
What does it add?
Adding herbs to your meal is obviously a great idea. Oregano in Italian cooking, parsley sauce with fish, rosemary and thyme on a roast leg of lamb. Using herbs (as well as spices, salt and the like) in the cooking process is exactly what gives a good meal fantastic flavour and leaves the diner wanting more. Slapping a pile of green on the top of the meal after the cooking is done adds nothing to the meal.
Think about it. To get the flavour and aroma of mint or dill or basil, the leaves need to be chopped or crushed or shredded. They need to be mixed into the food and allowed to permeate their wonderful flavours as the dish cooks. Dropping the leaves on top of the dish at the end adds nothing of the sort.
Yes, you could eat the leaves with a mouthful of whatever your meal is, but should you have to? Should you have to do what is essentially the work of the chef, chewing the garnish and releasing the flavours onto the meal they have prepared. I’m not saying some chefs are lazy (*cough*) but if I’m cooking a meal for someone, I’m making sure I have done the hard work for them.
Yes to the condiment!
Some of the obstinate amongst you might be yelling at your screen now about condiments. You may be wondering if I hold ketchup and mayonnaise and mustard to a similar standard and with equal disdain. Surely if I am arguing garnish is an attempt to hide problems or adds nothing to the meal, the same can be said for condiments. Of course you would be wrong for thinking along those lines, and I’m sure you knew this all along.
For a start, condiments are never applied over a meal as liberally as garnish can be. Attempts to hide burnt bits are doomed to failure.
When it comes to the edibility of condiments, do I need to say more than of course they are.
And what they add to the meal, well complimentary flavours which enhance the meal rathe than detract from it.
But most of all, when it comes to condiments, the ultimate reason they reign supreme over the garnish is the choice afforded the diner. Where garnish is forced upon me by arriving on my food, condiments are offered at the side. If I choose to add ketchup to my chips I can. Want to add the bite of mustard to my steak, no problems. Condiments are the ultimate in democratic dining, a far cry from the dictatorial garnish.
Join me Comrades!
For too many years, people have laboured under the misplaced belief that the garnish is necessary, cultured even. Nothing could be further from the truth. Adding garnish to the meal adds nothing to the taste, puts your diner in an ethical quandary and draws attention to the flaws rather than hiding them.
No matter what the TV chef will tell you, there is nothing good about garnish. It is time we all make a stand. Join with me today to reject the garnish, send it back with a message, and a brighter, sunlit upland is within our grasp!