For the first installment of “A Plating Palate” – a series in which I’ll explore plating techniques and styles – let’s take a look at how to utilize accessible garnishes like lemons, garlic, and scallions to accessorize fish, while maintaining a measure of white balance.
Start with a well-sourced fish and a whole grain, gather up your repertoire of garnishes, and collect an assortment of white plates.
Symmetry: By definition, symmetry involves a correspondence between different items, or having similar components facing each other or around an axis. When plating, it is a particularly efficient way to showcase smaller components, without overcrowding them. Aim to leave enough room between repeated items, so the eye has enough white space to capture the individual entities. To start, place two of the same items in succession – instead of finishing one portion to completion and replicating the next. This style works great as a duo or a trio, and is often a welcome presentation for tapas, appetizers or portions to be shared. Try a rectangular plate for a more elongated surface area.
To achieve a sauce ‘teardrop’ or ‘swoosh’ effect, place a drop of thickened sauce in a squeeze bottle and squeeze a large circular drop onto the plate. For this recipe, it was simply pureed blanched spinach (recipe below). Next, drag a skewer through the droplet, bringing the sauce to one side to the desired length. If in a pinch, this can also be achieved with a spoon in lieu of a skewer.
On a Diagonal: If choosing to serve a fish whole, plan to use a larger square plate. This will give you the surface area you need to offset the balance of where you place your fish. For this plating, the fish was placed on a diagonal, with a draping of scallions, followed by a trail of microgreens, flowing the opposite direction. The softened garlic pieces were placed randomly in an odd number of pieces. The small clusters of grilled lemons, couscous, and black sesame seeds were placed around the circumference to create a bit randomness and de-concentrate the direction of your main attraction.
Elegant Minimalism: For a simple, elegant presentation, try tossing couscous with some of the chlorophyll puree (recipe below). Start by placing the now-green grain slightly off-center on a round white plate, and strategically place the fish to build a bit of height. Place the grilled scallion perpendicular to the fish to offset the neatness. Dab an odd number of sauce droplets for composure and gently scatter microgreens around the perimeter. Place a small pile of grilled lemons at the twelve o’clock position as a garnish, leaving enough room between the items. The goal is to create the illusion of effortlessness, but to utilize a number of different garnishes to create a polished look.
The X-Factor: Another way to look at a plate is to envision a hypothetical clock as your guide, to create X-formations with different food components. Stroke the sauce in a single line using a paintbrush, and drag it along the plate, to point at one o’clock. Use a larger paintbrush to achieve a wider stroke. Practice on a clean plate until you feel comfortable with the motions before moving on to plating your dish.
Once you have your sauce down, place three or four grilled scallions at ten o’clock. The next step is the couscous, followed by the fish, both at a perpendicular three o’clock. Bring some continuity with a trail of black sesame seeds lining up with the scallions. Offset the whole thing with a few scattered spinach leaves, and voilà.
PAN SEARED BLACK STRIPED BASS WITH CHLOROPHYLL INFUSED ISRAELI COUSCOUS
For the fish:
1 (1-1 ½ pound) whole black striped bass, cut into filets or left whole
3 tablespoons organic coconut oil
2 tablespoons arrowroot
½ teaspoon sea salt
For the chlorophyll couscous:
½ lb baby spinach (a few leaves reserved for garnish)
¼ cup salt
¾ cup vegetable broth (or water)
½ cup whole wheat Israeli couscous
For the garnishes:
1 head garlic, peeled
½ cup organic canola oil
1 small bunch scallions
1 lemon, sliced in half
1 small container of micro kale
2 tablespoons black sesame seeds
For the bass: If keeping whole, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Coat the fish with oil and salt and bake for 15-20 minutes, on a parchment-lined half sheet tray. If filleting, coat the fish with arrowroot, preheat oil in a medium sauté pan and cook for 2 minutes per side. Remove from pan and season with salt.
For the chlorophyll couscous: Bring a small pot filled halfway with water to a boil. Add the salt and spinach, and blanch for 30 seconds. Remove spinach and cool in an ice bath. Strain and puree in a high speed blender, adding a small amount of water to thin out if necessary, until desired consistency is achieved. Bring vegetable stock (or water, if using) to a boil. Add the couscous, cover, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed.
For the garnishes: Put the peeled garlic cloves in a small saucepan and cover with oil. Poach at a very small simmer for 20 minutes, or until the garlic is golden and tender. Preheat a grill pan over medium heat, use a small amount of garlic oil to coat the scallions and lemon. Grill for two minutes per side.