What It Means To 'Finish' A Dish

If you've watched any appreciable number of cooking shows, you've most likely been instructed by some famous chef to "finish" your dish with a drizzle of oil, a sprinkling of salt, or some freshly chopped herbs. "Finishing" a dish, which is quite different than polishing one off, simply means adding those extra flourishes to help the food shine and become its best self.

Photo by Kimberly Vardeman.

There are many ways you can finish a dish, but each one is about adding an extra pop of flavour, freshness or texture to complement and enhance your already delicious work. Here are a few of my favourite last-minute, taste-boosting add-ins:

  • Really Good Salt: If I've said it once, I've said it (realistically) about a dozen times: Get yourself some Maldon, and sprinkle those salty little pyramids on everything. Not only does it provide the flavour enhancing salinity every food -- even fruit -- needs, but they add a most pleasing bit of crunch and they look really pretty.
  • A Bit of Extra Fat: Fat tastes good, but the flavour of really good olive oil -- or any kind of infused oil -- can get lost and muted after cooking. To add just a bit of that flavour back in, and provide a rich mouthfeel, drizzle on a bit of oil right before serving. Want to add even more richness? Brush meats, vegetables, bread or even pie crusts with some melted butter before digging in.
  • A Squeeze of Lemon: Lemon can be added literally to almost anything savoury, and it should be. Rather than adding citrusy flavour, it simply brightens everything up. It lightens and enhances without drawing too much attention to itself. Just a squeeze -- added right at the end, because cooked lemon juice can taste metallic and weird -- will balance and pull focus onto all the right things.
  • Fresh Herbs: When cooking with fresh herbs, I always reserve a little bit of one (whichever one tastes the best fresh) and sprinkle it on to finish whatever I'm cooking. Like finishing with olive oil, this lets any of the brighter flavours that may have been cooked out pop back up, providing contrast and a bit of colour.

Strongly flavoured ingredients such as vinegar, Parmesan cheese and freshly ground pepper can all be used as finishing touches, but keep in mind that these have the potential to overpower, rather than subtly enhance your food. The above, however, will enhance without distracting, making sure your meal shines the way it was intended to.


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