30 Gourmet Culinary Touches

Random Observation/Comment #831: A garnish with some finishing salt goes a long way.

Why this List?

Every chef has a unique touch that defines their creations. There are certain ingredients and techniques that can universally elevate any dish – making it stand out in flavor, texture, and presentation. This guide is a curated collection of those special touches, aimed for anyone to just try out with some of their existing favorite cooks.

I’ve also been watching way too much Beat Bobby Flay because there’s like 30+ seasons on (HBO) Max. Time to try out some new recipes!

  1. Texture Contrast
    • Crispy Elements: Deep-fried shallots, garlic chips, or crispy leeks can add a delightful crunch.
    • Breadcrumbs: Toasted panko or homemade breadcrumbs can be sprinkled over pasta dishes or casseroles for added texture.
    • Seeds and Nuts: Toasted sesame seeds, pine nuts, or crushed pistachios can provide both flavor and crunch.
  2. Richness and Umami
    • Eggs: A sunny-side-up or poached egg on top of dishes like burgers, salads, or grain bowls can add richness. This is my go to move.
    • Anchovy Paste or Fish Sauce: Even if it’s not detectable as a primary flavor, these can add depth to sauces and dressings. Emulsify in a blender.
  3. Freshness and Brightness
    • Citrus Zest: Grated lemon, lime, or orange zest can brighten up both savory and sweet dishes.
    • Fresh Herbs: Chopped fresh herbs like basil, mint, or cilantro can refresh a dish. Consider herb oils or drizzles too.
  4. Heat and Spice
    • Pickled Chilies: These can add both heat and acidity to dishes.
    • Infused Oils: Chili or garlic-infused oils can be drizzled over dishes for a kick.
  5. Sweet Touches
    • Balsamic Reduction: A drizzle can balance savory dishes with its sweet and tangy profile.
    • Fruit Compotes: These can complement meats, especially game.
  6. Depth of Flavor
    • Charred Elements: Charred lemons, vegetables, or even lettuces (like romaine) can add a smoky depth.
    • Aged Cheeses: Using aged Parmesan, Gouda, or other cheeses can introduce a deeper, umami flavor.
  7. Aesthetics
    • Edible Flowers: These can beautify a dish and add slight flavor nuances.
    • Microgreens: They provide a delicate touch and fresh flavor. I’m a huge fan of microgreens even though they don’t really have any flavor add-ons.
  8. Sauces and Condiments
    • Compound Butters: Mix butter with herbs, spices, or citrus zest for added flavor.
    • Homemade Aioli: Elevate sandwiches or use as a dip. Add flavors like roasted garlic, chipotle, or saffron.
  9. Umami Bombs
    • Miso Paste: Incorporate miso into marinades, dressings, or soups for a deep, savory flavor.
    • Dried Mushrooms: Grind into a powder and sprinkle over dishes or incorporate into sauces for an earthy umami kick. (I’ve only ground mushrooms into powders for other reasons). I wind up just boiling/soaking mushrooms and using the sauce with butter.
  10. Fresh and Aromatic
    • Lemongrass: Adds a fresh, citrusy aroma to soups, curries, or marinades.
    • Kaffir Lime Leaves: Impart a unique citrus fragrance, especially in Southeast Asian dishes.
  11. Creamy Elements
    • Avocado: Use as a base for creamy, dairy-free sauces or dressings.
    • Tahini: Adds creaminess and a nutty flavor to dressings, sauces, or even desserts.
  12. Briny and Salty
    • Capers: Offer a salty and briny touch, perfect for pasta, salads, or fish dishes.
    • Olives: Introduce both saltiness and a fruity depth, especially when roasted or charred.
  13. Caramelized Flavors
    • Caramelized Onions: Add sweetness and depth to burgers, pizzas, or grain bowls.
    • Brown Butter: Offers a nutty aroma and flavor, great for baking, sauces, or drizzling over vegetables. I love a brown butter gnocchi.
  14. Sour and Tangy
    • Preserved Lemons: Deliver a unique citrusy, briny flavor to Mediterranean and North African dishes.
    • Tamarind: Imparts a sour and slightly sweet flavor, ideal for Asian or Indian curries and sauces.
  15. Texture Enhancements
    • Poppy or Chia Seeds: Introduce a slight crunch and visual appeal to bread, muffins, or as a sprinkle on salads.
    • Gelatin or Agar-Agar: Create silky textures in desserts, or add to broths for a luscious mouthfeel.
  16. Aromatic Oils
    • Truffle Oil: A few drops can transform risottos, pastas, or pizzas with its intense aroma.
    • Rosemary or Thyme Infused Oils: Drizzle over roasted vegetables, meats, or bread.
  17. Crunchy Toppings
    • Watermelon Radish: Thinly sliced, they add a peppery crunch and vibrant color. I also just use pickled red onions for this.
    • Fried Chickpeas: Offer a crunchy, protein-rich topping for salads or as a snack on their own.
  18. Earthy Elements
    • Beetroot: Roasted for a deep, caramelized flavor or used in salads and desserts.
    • Cumin: Ground or toasted, it adds a warm, earthy note to dishes.
  19. Smoky Notes
    • Smoked Paprika: Imparts a mild smokiness and vibrant color.
    • Chipotle Peppers: Add a smoky, spicy kick in dishes.
  20. Refreshing Additions
    • Cucumber: Adds a fresh crunch to salads, sandwiches, or cold soups.
    • Mint: Brings a refreshing note to dishes, especially when paired with fruits, lamb, or in beverages.
  21. Nuttiness
    • Toasted Sesame Oil: A drizzle can transform Asian dishes with its intense nutty aroma.
    • Flaxseeds: Ground or whole, they can add nuttiness and nutrition to smoothies, bread, or as a topping.
  22. Sweet Enhancements
    • Maple Syrup: Beyond pancakes, it can be used as a natural sweetener in glazes, dressings, or desserts.
    • Dates: Offer natural sweetness and can be used in baking, smoothies, or stuffed with cheese as an appetizer.
  23. Tangy and Fermented
    • Kimchi: Adds a spicy, tangy kick to dishes. Can be used as a side or incorporated into recipes like fried rice or pancakes.
    • Kombucha: Beyond drinking, it can be used as a tangy marinade base or in salad dressings.
  24. Herbaceous Boost
    • Chervil: Has a subtle anise flavor, making it a delicate herb choice for garnishing or in salads.
    • Tarragon: Its licorice-like flavor pairs well with chicken, fish, or in sauces.
  25. Tropical Flavors
    • Passion Fruit: Its aromatic pulp can elevate desserts, beverages, or even savory sauces.
    • Coconut Milk: Adds richness and a tropical note to curries, soups, or desserts.
  26. Spicy Touch
    • Harissa: A North African chili paste that brings heat and depth to stews, marinades, or spreads.
    • Wasabi or Horseradish: Offers a sharp, pungent heat, great with seafood or in sauces.
  27. Marinades and Rubs
    • Za’atar: A Middle Eastern spice blend of thyme, sumac, and sesame seeds. It adds a tangy, herbal note to meats, bread, or salads.
    • Gochugaru: Korean red chili flakes that offer a sweet and slightly smoky spiciness, perfect for marinades or spice mixes.
  28. Savory and Salty
    • Black Garlic: Fermented garlic that has a sweet, umami-rich flavor profile. It can be used in sauces, dressings, or even as a pizza topping.
    • Tamari: A gluten-free alternative to soy sauce, it adds depth and saltiness to dishes, especially in marinades or stir-fries.
  29. Aromatic Enhancements
    • Fennel Seeds: They have a mild licorice flavor and can be toasted and used in dishes ranging from Italian sausages to Indian curries.
    • Bay Leaves: Often used in broths, stews, and rice dishes, they impart a subtle, earthy aroma.
  30. Texture and Crunch
    • Puffed Grains: Puffed rice, quinoa, or amaranth can add a light, airy crunch to salads, desserts, or as a garnish.
    • Dukkah: An Egyptian nut and spice blend that can be sprinkled over dishes or used as a crust for meats.

~See Lemons Love Cooking Touches