Garnishes have moved on since the days of a simple sprig of parsley. Chefs are now rapidly discovering that there is an amazing array of edible flowers that can both make a plate of food look beautiful and also add depth of flavour and colour when incorporated in dishes.
As part of our continuing tutored tasting series, New Covent Garden Market asked three chefs to taste a selection of edible garnishes. The products were supplied by First Choice Fruit & Produce and chefs Gareth Bowen, Adam Hilliard and Jamie Welch participated in the tasting and flavour profiling.
First Choice Fruit and Produce works closely with edible flower growers and more varieties have come into the market in the past few years. Supply can be very weather sensitive in early spring and autumn, making them all the more special when they do arrive. Daniel Jerome, sales director at First Choice Fruit & Produce, guides us through a selection
Properties Similar to rocket in flavour, slightly peppery. Refreshing and palate-cleansing.
Usage Great in salads, adding colour and flavour
Notes Use sparingly; the intense flavour can be overpowering.
Properties Small delicate blue or white star shaped flowers with a cool cucumber, slightly yeasty flavour
Usage Traditonally used as a garnish for Pimm's and look wonderful frozen in ice cubes
Notes Use both in sweet and savoury dishes to add a layer of complexity
Properties Very mild sweet to tart flavour, with lettuce-like notes
Usage Makes a decorative addition to a green salad or to garnish a pâté or dessert. Can be crystallised and used to decorate cakes, cookies or creamy desserts
Notes Available spring and summer
Properties Very fragrant, strong flavour. Smells and tastes like a mix of chive and garlic.
Usage Great with savoury dishes and cheese
Notes Only use raw
Properties Tea-like flavour, similar to chamomile
Usage Due to the subtle flavour, viola flowers are best used for infusions
Notes Good for garnishing, adds vibrant colour to multiple dishes
Properties Great beetroot flavour and colour
Usage The colours mean it lifts the plate. Also great in salads and canapés.
Notes Needs delicate handling and storage to prolong the shelf life
Properties The leaves, like the flowers, have a lovely spicy flavour, similar to watercress or rocket
Usage Great for lifting salads
Notes An easy introduction to using edible flowers
WHAT THE CHEFS SAID
Adam Hilliard Head chef, Fredericks, Islington, London Violas and pansies carry an image of the 1970s so use them sparingly and in original ways in dishes.
Marigold petals are fragile, so if using in salads don't add too much oil or vinegar. They are good for cleansing the palate.
Using edible flowers reflects the efficiency and skill in the kitchen. They need careful handling and storage and once plated, they need to get out of the kitchen very quickly.
Gareth Bowenâ¨Executive head chef, London Marriott hotel County Hall Nasturtiums can add colour to a plate and are surprisingly similar to watercress but with a much hardier texture. They are an easy introduction to using edible flowers.
Borage has a beautiful blue flower and has a yeasty flavour after the sweetness - reminiscent of honeysuckle.
Rock cress could be a good alfalfa substitute served with falafel.
Jamie Welchâ¨Executive chef, London Marriott hotel, Grosvenor Square The Beetroot cress is a vibrant colour and very fine. I would use this with goat's cheese and smoked salmon. We use it on our menu to garnish a beetroot tatin.
First Choice Fruit and Produce, 07762 890 883, www.firstchoice-produce.com
For more information on New Covent Garden Market, to request a guided tour or receive a free copy of the NCGM monthly market report please visit www.newcoventgardenmarket.com**