The executive chef of dine by Peter Gordon at SkyCity answers your cuisine questions.
I've been eating out a lot recently and seem to see microgreens on every dish as a garnish. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't and is just silly (the parsley of the 21st century). But they're easy to grow and I'd like some ideas to use up my harvest, so can you suggest some ways to use microgreens that you've seen/been using in your restaurants?
I have to agree with you on the almost excessive use of microgreens these days. Like sprigs of mint on desserts and parsley on savoury food (of which I was once guilty but have since stayed on the straight and narrow road), it is becoming as annoying as the restaurants and cafes that dust the plate with smoked paprika, ground turmeric or cumin. The latter has me immediately wiping the rim of the plate (often of waiters' fingerprints) and wondering how anyone could think it looks good. But garnish is something that, when done well, works beautifully - like a good haircut, a great scarf or pair of shoes. However, when the dish has become swamped by microgreens to the point that the garnish features more than the so-called hero of the dish, you know the chef has no idea what they're up to.
For me, a garnish has to have some important part to play, it should be edible, and the flavour or colour should compliment the dish. A few well placed marigold petals sprinkled on a dish that's predominantly green or brown (say a salad of rocket, parmesan and borlotti beans) lifts the dish enormously and the flavour of the yellow petals adds to the dish. Likewise, several slices of seared tuna with a seaweed sauce or salad and some wasabi type dressing can be made even more gorgeous with micro watercress, coriander or shiso leaves.
Growing micro-greens is very easy once you have the seeds. In my Salads book, published back in 2005, I wrote quite a bit about the process. Basically, what you need do is soak a clean Chux cloth (one that's been washed and has no awful lemon or pine scent to it) and lay it, folded into 2-3 layers, on a tray, keeping it moist but not wet. Sprinkle seeds on top, quite close to each other, then let them sprout and grow to a height of about 5cm before snipping them off. When I was a child, we used to sprout seeds on top of cotton wool face wipes we'd place inside jar lids - the effect was the same. Too wet and your sprouts will rot and be useless, too dry and they'll never grow. Seeds for you to consider are peas, coriander, watercress, chives, parsley, mint and shiso.
While you're experimenting with these, you might also like to think about edible flowers which really can make a dish look spectacular. Rose, marigold, pansy, nasturtium, and comfrey are all good, just make sure you ask your seed supplier which ones are edible. Lavender is a wonderful herb in things like shortbread and panna cotta (it can be quite strong, so go easy) and also used to poke into legs of lamb as you do rosemary - but make sure you're using the edible variety. Used sparingly and for a genuinely flavoursome or visual reason, microgreens and flowers can be gorgeous.
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