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Easy Garnishes We Can’t Live Without

By Kristina DeMichele Published

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.

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 Butter Recipe

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

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 Flavoring Microwave Time

Sriracha Salt

⅓ cup sriracha

6–8 minutes

Mustard Salt

¼ cup Dijon mustard and ¼ cup whole-grain mustard

6–8 minutes

Smoky Salt

1 teaspoon liquid smoke

1–2 minutes

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.