America's Test Kitchen LogoCook's Country LogoCook's Illustrated Logo
Recipe Spotlight

Easy Garnishes We Can’t Live Without

There’s no better way to fend off dinner doldrums than to keep a variety of ultraquick and vibrant sauces, seasonings, and toppings on hand.
By

Published Apr. 3, 2019.

Every cook needs an arsenal of finishing touches—tangy chutneys, piquant pastes, rich dressings, earthy spice blends, seasoned salts, and flavored butters—that can breathe new life into chicken breasts, jazz up vegetables, and add visual, textural, and flavor contrast to make a dish pop. Behold a larder’s worth of our favorites, both familiar classics and modern riffs. We’ve organized them by flavor and texture profiles and offered suggested uses, but these are just starting points; use your imagination.

Tangy Garnishes

Green Tomato Chutney

What it is: Sweet-sour preserve

Serve with: Rich meat, sausage, cheese, sandwiches

Total time: 3 hours Yield: 2 cups

Tip: To expedite cooling, spread the chutney into an even layer in a shallow dish.

Tangy Hoisin Sauce

What it is: Vinegary, gingery Chinese soybean sauce

Serve with: Pork, chicken, rice, noodles, eggs

Total time: 5 minutes Yield: ½ cup

Creamy Garnishes

Preserved-Lemon Aioli

What it is: Tangy garlic mayonnaise

Serve with: Vegetables, seafood, sandwiches

Total time: 5 minutes Yield: 1 cup

Tahini and Honey Sauce

What it is: Sweet, nutty sesame sauce

Serve with: Vegetables, French fries, falafel, grains, chicken, lamb

Total time: 5 minutes Yield: ⅓ cup

Fresh Garnishes

Tarragon-Lemon Gremolata

What it is: Italian herb garnish

Serve with: Soup, pasta, fish, vegetables

Total time: 5 minutes Yield: ¼ cup

Tip: Prepare the gremolata just before serving to prevent the garlic flavor from becoming too sharp.

Mint Persillade

What it is: French herb sauce

Serve with: Meat, fish, vegetables

Total time: 5 minutes Yield: 1 cup

Cilantro-Mint Chutney

What it is: Bright, subtly spicy Indian herb sauce

Serve with: Grilled or roasted fish, Indian curries

Total time: 5 minutes Yield: 1 cup

Spicy Garnishes

Spicy Honey

What it is: Spicy, tangy honey

Serve with: Vegetables, pizza

Total time: 15 minutes Yield: ¼ cup

Harissa

What it is: North African chile-spice paste

Serve with: Vegetables, eggs, lamb, soup

Total time: 5 minutes Yield: ½ cup

Korean Chile Sauce

What it is: Sweet and spicy sauce

Serve with: Stew, chili, rice bowls, noodles, macaroni and cheese, eggs

Total time: 5 minutes Yield: ⅔ cup

Tip: Store in a squeeze bottle for easy drizzling.

Crispy/Crunchy Garnishes

Candied Bacon Bits

What it is: Sugar- and vinegar-glazed bacon bits

Serve with: Creamy soup, salad, pasta, eggs, dips

Total time: 10 minutes Yield: ¼ cup

Za’atar

What it is: Earthy, bright Middle Eastern spice blend

Serve with: Dips, meatballs, kebabs, roasted potatoes

Total time: 5 minutes Yield: ⅓ cup

Pistachio Dukkah

What it is: Egyptian nut, seed, and spice blend

Serve with: Olive oil as dip for bread, soup, seafood

Total time: 5 minutes Yield: ½ cup

Microwave-Fried Shallots, Garlic, and Leeks

Serve with: Soup, salad, stir-fries, rice, burgers

Total time: 20 minutes

Tip: Save the allium‑infused oil for incorporating into dressings, mayonnaise, stir-fries, or curries or for drizzling over soups or stews.

Compound Butters

Cilantro-Chipotle Butter

Stirring seasonings into softened butter is an easy way to make a rich, flavor-packed condiment for meat, fish, and vegetables that can be refrigerated for up to three days or frozen indefinitely. It’s also a great way to use up ingredients such as a single scallion, the last spoonful of honey, or stray bits of cheese. Here are a few suggestions.

Combine 4 tablespoons softened unsalted butter with the following:

Compound ButterRecipe

Thai Chile Butter

1 minced garlic clove, 1½ teaspoons thinly sliced scallion (green part only), 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro, 2 teaspoons Asian chili-garlic paste, ½ teaspoon red curry paste

Try Other Compound Butter Flavor Combinations

One-Ingredient Finishers

These minimalist seasonings enhance food without distracting from its flavor. Just be sure to use fresh, high-quality ingredients.

Citrus zest: Grate over vegetables, chicken, fish

Grilled lemon halves: Squeeze over meat and seafood

Extra-virgin olive oil: Drizzle over soup, salad, seafood, steak, pasta, grains

Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese: Grate or shave over soup, salad, pasta, grains

Vinegar: Drizzle a few drops over soup, stew, sauces, fried food

Seasoned Salts

Sriracha Salt

Salt infused with herbs, spices, or other flavorings delivers distinct, punchy flavor. Store-bought versions are expensive, but it’s easy to make your own in the microwave by following these guidelines.

Combine ½ cup kosher salt and flavoring in small bowl. Spread mixture on large plate and microwave, stirring every 60 seconds, until only slightly damp (mixture will continue to dry as it cools).

SALT

SALT

FLAVORING

SALT

MICROWAVE TIME
Sriracha Salt

Sriracha Salt

⅓ cup sriracha

Sriracha Salt

6–8 minutes

Mustard Salt

Mustard Salt

¼ cup Dijon mustard and ¼ cup whole-grain mustard

Mustard Salt

6–8 minutes

Smoky Salt

Smoky Salt

1 teaspoon liquid smoke

Smoky Salt

1–2 minutes

0 Comments

This is a members' feature.