Finish With a Frizzle: Garden-fresh garnishes in a flash

What are you gonna do with all of those delectable herbs shooting up in the vegetable garden and cascading over patio-side pots and windowsill containers? Betcha turn the bulk of your basil into pesto, right? Maybe you use bunches of mint and parsley in tabbouli, or garnish grilled salmon with chives for a refined touch of elegance. Fresh herbs and greens certainly embellish everyday dishes, but have you ever tried them flash-fried? Airy-crisp leaves, greens and blossoms impart taste and textural contrast that brighten a plate of food a heck of a lot more than a sad sprig of parsley.

At An American Place, flash-fried garnishes are practically de rigueur. “Fried herbs are always an extra garnish around our kitchen,” stated Joshua Galliano, the downtown restaurant’s chef de cuisine. Galliano has adorned smothered chicken gnocchi with fried sage, garnished mushroom bisque with fried parsley, asparagus consommé with fried nasturtium leaves and ceviche with fried mint. “Generally, I use the fried herbs as a contrast in texture for an herb that is already used in the dish for flavoring,” Galliano explained.

Jimmy’s on the Park in Clayton’s DeMun neighborhood recently gave a distinctive green zing to its calamari appetizer. “The bitterness of the flash-fried spinach goes well with the calamari,” said Jimmy’s executive chef Derek Craig, who flash-fries the spinach, sprinkles it with lemon juice and Parmesan and then serves it on the calamari with a side of saffron aioli.

Andy White’s seared tuna with pork special got rave reviews at Off the Vine earlier this year. The executive chef at this cozy bistro on Hampton Avenue presented the tuna aside a bed of pork risotto. A fancy braised-leek fan separated the fish from the rice dish and frizzled, golden shreds of leeks atop the tuna lent the perfect finishing touch. “It’s two different textures and two different flavors of leek,” said White, who likes using such finishes on hot dishes because the leaves hold up well in their fried state.

The list of possibilities for fried herbs, greens and blossoms is infinite, yet some foods will provide better results. “More leafy herbs like basil, sage and mint will respond better,” said John Womick, culinary director at L’École Culinare in Ladue. “Thyme and oregano won’t work as well because of the woody stem.” Rosemary and watercress are also on Womick’s no-no list because of their stemlike nature. (Plus neither fares well in a frying pan, he said.) “Large flat-leaf parsley and cilantro are nice, just don’t use the stem. Translucent and delicate is what we are looking for.”

Deep-fried garden fare makes a spectacular finish even for desserts. “Lavender blossoms are great fried as an accompaniment to simple vanilla ice cream,” said Womick, thinking about culinary potentials for summer. “Basil is a nice complement to citrus so it would go well with a lemon sorbet or lemon tart. Mint complements everything – chocolate, citruses, vanillas, strawberries, stone fruits – anything with a little sweet and sour.”

Appealingly new, full of texture and flavor, fried garnishes are a quick and easy way to finish your favorite culinary creations with a masterly flair. Ready to transform your dishes into eye-catching, edible designs? Get out those garden scissors and start snipping!