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“Finish” Your Dish and Maximize Flavors Like a Pro Chef

A hand sprinkling seasoning over a plate of salmon and rice.
Africa Studio/Shutterstock

“Finishing” a dish is the final step to create an incredibly satisfying meal that makes your taste buds sing. Here’s how you can add some extra zing your meal.

What Does Finishing a Dish Mean?

As a kid, your mother probably told you repeatedly that if you wanted dessert, you had to clean your plate, but that’s not what a chef means when she talks about “finishing” a plate. To professionally “finish” a dish, you add a final touch of flavor or texture to make your meal stand out.

Often, people confuse “garnish” for “finish.” When you plate a meal, the two components have separate goals. The primary purpose of a finish is to add more flavor, while a garnish is used to embellish or decorate your dish.

Finishing Ingredients

Chances are, you already have most of these finishing ingredients in your kitchen, but if not, you can find them at any local grocery store. These three types of finishes provide either an abundance of flavor or a palate-friendly texture that will make everyone go back for seconds.

 Citrus Fruit Zest

A hand zesting a lemon on a microplane.
Emilee Unterkoefler

When you lightly run a lemon or other citrus fruit across a microplane grater, you’re zesting. Make sure you only zest the colored part of the fruit, though—the white part of the peel is bitter.

If you make an orange cranberry bread for Thanksgiving dinner, zest an orange on top right before you serve it. This adds a refreshing, vivid experience to each bite.

Lemon zest is great on lemon blueberry bread, and always add lime zest to your key lime pie.

Oils and Butter

A savory butter or a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) can make a world of difference on certain foods.

Having a few friends over for a glass of wine? Make a light bruschetta topped on a fresh French baguette. Right before you serve it, drizzle some EVOO on top to add a pleasing complexity to your appetizer.

You can also add a small amount of Italian balsamic vinegar, but drizzle with caution—you don’t want the intensity of the vinegar to overpower the delicate flavors of the dish.

Three scallops and two pieces of asparagus finished with brown butter on a plate.
Emilee Unterkoefler

Brown butter is another simple way to give your meal a heavenly taste. To make brown butter, you just slowly heat a few tablespoons of butter in a pan until it turns brown. The rich, nutty butter drizzled on top of seared scallops, or even a pasta dish, will make your taste buds say, “Wow!”

Freshly Cracked Salt and Pepper

Salt and pepper are two simple toppings most people shake on their meal without the slightest bit of hesitation. You see shakers on every restaurant table, but the right peppercorns and salt can give your dish an entirely new feel.

When you use freshly cracked peppercorns, they provide a pungent taste and crunchy texture, which is just what those poached eggs need on a Sunday morning.

Switch out your table salt for something a bit bolder, like Himalayan salt, which contains 84 natural minerals. It’s pretty, healthy, and tastes yummy!

Maximize the Flavor of Steak and Chicken

A bowl of garlic and herb butter next to a cutting board, with parsley and a knife on top.
Emilee Unterkoefler

You can add a finish to all sorts of dishes, but meats especially benefit from it. When you finish your steak or chicken meal with garlic-herb butter, it not only makes it look amazing, but the creamy taste also makes it a meal to remember.

To make a garlic and herb butter, follow the recipe below:

Ingredients

  • 1 stick of butter (room temperature)
  • 1 tbsp. of minced roasted garlic
  • 2 tbsps. freshly chopped parsley

Mix all the ingredients, and then refrigerate for about 30 minutes. When your steak or chicken comes off the grill, add a cold dollop of garlic-herb butter.

Enhance Fish and Seafood

Most Fish entrees taste great with a fresh squeeze of lemon. The citrus fruit helps break down the intensity of the fish taste and leaves your palate with a tart, refreshing taste.

One squeeze of lemon not only takes care of the fishy odor, but the bright fruit-flavor counters the brininess and nicely complements fish and seafood dishes.

Make Desserts More Delectable

Most desserts—especially in the U.S.—are sugary and sweet, but sometimes a drizzle of fresh coulis is all you need to make your sweet tooth sing. Coulis is a thin fruit puree used as a sauce.

You can make fruit coulis by following this recipe:

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of fresh strawberries
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • Freshly-squeezed lemon juice from 1/2 a small lemon

In a medium saucepan, combine your ingredients and bring them to a boil on medium-to-high heat. When it begins to boil, transfer to a blender. Puree your ingredients and strain your sauce to keep the strawberry seeds out.

Coulis is excellent on cheesecake, or even a scoop of vanilla ice cream topped with fresh strawberries—enjoy!


The best part about cooking or baking is you can create something that looks beautiful and tastes fantastic.

Some foods go well together, and some don’t. But if you experiment with different ingredients, you might just find the chef within!