I took the position because I wanted to learn how to cook seafood. I did learn how to slowly poach halibut so that when the exterior hinted at flaking, the interior was a silky medium-rare. I did learn how to char huge, freshly sucked sea scallops by rolling them along their equators over a white-hot cast-iron cooktop like sticky summer tires on hot asphalt. And I did learn how to cut any whole fish, regardless of species or shape, into pristine fillets.
But my greatest takeaway from my brief tenure at Le Bernardin had little to do with seafood at all: It was learning the true value of a sauce. The saucier, the highest-ranking cook at the restaurant, would craft a dozen sauces daily to dress every piece of fish that entered the dining room. There was a lemon-browned butter emulsion, a verjus-lemon grass infusion, a red wine-brandy sauce, a ginger-cardamom broth, and a calamari consommé to name a few. By the time the saucier finished simmering stocks, infusing aromatics and spices, straining, reducing, seasoning, and enriching, the cost of some sauces easily totaled more than $100 per quart. That often made the sauce the most expensive item on the plate, a fact that stunned me at first. But then I tasted dish after dish and saw how each sauce punctuated, highlighted, complemented, and completed the fish it accompanied. The effects were absolutely transformative.
We pack this magazine with techniques and methods that ensure you’ll always have perfectly rosy steak, juicy chicken, and crisp-tender vegetables. But over the past two decades, we’ve also built an impressive archive of sauces, chutneys, flavored salts, crispy aromatics, crunchy spice blends, and herb-packed dressings. Most come together quickly with just a few ingredients. More important, each will instantly elevate the food it garnishes. For the May/June 2019 issue, we’ve compiled our absolute favorites into one beautiful illustrated guide. We’ve organized them by the flavors and textures they provide, such as creamy, fresh, crispy, and spicy. Any one of them will add deep dimension to your food, but in my mind, the real magic happens when you combine a couple of garnishes from complementary categories. I love when creamy tahini sauce mingles with crunchy pistachio dukkah on lamb or grilled vegetables. Few combinations can improve a humble sandwich more than a schmear of creamy preserved lemon aioli and a mount of crispy fried shallots can. And my favorite soup is any one that gets finished with dollops of bright cilantro-mint chutney and spicy, ruddy harissa.
If you’ve been with us for a while, cooking our recipes and reading our stories, experiments, and kitchen notes, then I’m going to bet you’ve learned an awful lot about how to cook fish. Here’s to making sure it’s perfectly dressed when it hits the table.
Editor in Chief