Like any good home cook, when throwing a dinner party or a casual barbeque, I strive to create inviting and unfussy dishes that welcome my guests yet still elevate the aff air and leave my friends and family feeling like they’ve been served something special. To accomplish this, in addition to honoring the ingredients and preparing a delicious meal, I created the three Fs of dinner party presentation: family-style, flat, and finishing herbs.
With all the running around that a dinner party demands, there’s rarely time to plate individual dishes perfectly. So why bother? Instead, go family style. Not only do the passing of platters and the sharing of sustenance inspire a sense of community; you get to focus on simply showcasing the food.
Hot tip: now is the time to take out all those platters you never use!
A few years back, piling food as high on the plate as possible was de rigueur, but recently restaurants have begun to use the plate or board as a wide canvas, and now, because of how easy and beautiful it is, home cooks are following suit. So instead of hiding your ingredients, let your guests see what they’re enjoying and spread your salads on platters, smear your herb butters on a cheese slate, and arrange your chops on a cutting board and apply your sauces like you’re channeling Jackson Pollock.
Hot tip: consider placing your protein on top of your sauce . . . instead of the other way around.
Since I started incorporating finishing herbs into my plating, the amount of oohs and aahs I’ve received has increased exponentially. While folding in herbs to homemade butter may release more of the flavor, broken, torn and bruised leaves aren’t exactly appealing. However, when herbs and edible flowers are sprinkled over the top, suddenly the dish is a garden canvas, a Monet mosaic. And a pickled beet salad with goat cheese and pepitas not only looks more appealing with fresh sweet marjoram leaves confetti’d about, but the perfume the herbs release refi nes the entire dish.
My herb garden has grown quite a bit over the last few summers as I strive to bring more local finishing herbs to my flat, family-style plates. Torn lovage atop my potato salad; tarragon and hyssop tossed across whole, grilled, citrus-stuffed snapper; and edible salvia blossoms and zataar over braised chicken curry let my guest know that they mean more to me than takeout pizza ever will.
Hot tip: the North State is a hotbed for wild edible herbs. Even if you’re without an herb garden, a simple walk around the neighborhood will reveal myriad fragrant herbs like rosemary, lavender, thyme, oregano, sage, savory, and all varieties of mint. Or buy starts at your local farmers’ market. My herb garden gives thanks for its starts to Sherri Scott and her GRUB Grown cart at Chico’s Saturday Farmers’ Market.
Stephen David Caldes is a writer, home cook, and assistant professor in the Journalism and Public Relations Department at CSU, Chico. He has many hobbies, but eating with friends is his favorite.