Knowledge of bio-sustainability, treatment of livestock, the great genetic modification debate and trendy pop-up restaurants have all revolutionised how we perceive our food.
For the average stay-at-home diners, there is also a demand on tasty tucker. Thanks to cooking programmes, everyone is a critic. Everything we serve on a plate now has to not only taste good but also pleasing to the eye. So without getting into emulsions, gelees, smoking and liquid nitrogen, what are some simple tips on how to create your own wonder on a plate?
1. Balancing Act
Chefs and avid cooks like yours truly are constantly throwing the phrase “balance of flavours” around like it’s going out of fashion. The truth is, and especially when you are trying to create Asian delicacies, the perfect dish is almost operatic – a mix of the dramatic flavours that make you want to laugh and cry at the same time. Always have the three elements with you – sweet, sour and salty. They are the salt and pepper of the east. As a general guide, a balanced dish will have the equal amounts of all three.
2. Crunch Time
A dish needs to have a variety of textures but the one that stands out is a crunchy element. Whether it’s the crispiness of a perfectly cooked crackling or a sweet peanut brittle, diners love a good crunch. So at your next dinner party, consider some of these nuts – cashews not only add a nice crunch to your stir-fries but they also give a nice flavour-lift; a walnut crumble always gives a traditional teacake a sense of sophistication; and candied hazelnuts make an elegant garnish on a cheesecake.
3. Mix & Match
At first we saw fruits incorporated into salads then there was bacon in ice cream and now salt in chocolate is the new black. When trying to be food-trendy at home, try to curb your enthusiasm. Your guests want to see fusion, not confusion. Gamier meats like kangaroo and venison benefits from a pairing with dark chocolate. While pork and apple are a traditional marriage, consider a contemporary twist like pairing it with white peach. Guava is an underused fruit – try it with rocket, walnuts and balsamic vinegar to give your salad an edge.
Believe it or not people do like to feel like they are helping to make their meals. Even if it is just a simple pouring of the sauce. Think taco night, except with adult ingredients. Try doing a hot pot night. Create your own sizzling stock and sit it in the middle of the table. Surround it with raw ingredients including meat, vegetables, and handmade noodles. Once that is all ready to go, let your guests cook their own meals. You can be the first to do it as a demonstration. There is something theatrical and communal about do-it-yourself meals.
5. High Hopes
Height is important when plating up a dish. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to create a leaning tower of Pisa on a plate. The important thing to remember is practicality. While we prefer the abundance that height gives, we also want to be able to carry the dish to the table without it toppling over.