Whipped Cream Isn't Just for Sweets—Here's How to Use It to Garnish Savory Dishes, Too
Sometimes it feels like the difference between dining out and home cooking are garnishes. These days chefs aren’t just worried about finishing dishes with things that are pretty, they want them to be delicious and an integral part of the dish. Whether it is a toasted crunchy or crispy element that adds to the textural interest, a drizzle of an intensely flavored oil, sauce or glaze to add depth, or a brightening element like fresh citrus zest or a squeeze of juice, garnishes have to bring something besides looks to the plate.
I’m generically sort of terrible at garnishes. If it isn’t a final flourish of chopped fresh herbs, I’m usually at a bit of a loss. But recently I’ve become a huge fan of whipped cream garnishes for savory dishes.
Whipped cream is the world’s easiest and most magical dessert garnish. It lightens rich dishes and adds richness to light ones. It can be as simple as a pure cloud of unsweetened cream on a particularly sweet dish, or a lightly sweetened version, or even a flavored version like vanilla Chantilly on a strawberry shortcake, or a chocolate whipped cream on a ganache tartlet.
Chef Michael White was the first person to teach me to garnish a savory dish with whipped cream. I was assisting him on cooking a private dinner almost 25 years ago, and one course was a pumpkin soup. He whipped cream and then added crushed amaretti di saronno cookies into the cream and garnished the soup. The cream melted into the soup, adding a tart fresh element, the little cookie bits were crunchy at first, and then softer, the almond flavor complementing the soup perfectly. I have made this soup for Thanksgiving every year since then, and always with that garnish. I have also stolen the garnish cream for topping roasted butternut squash and a red kuri salad.
But what about even more savory versions? I started to experiment with not just adding mix-ins to softly whipped cream, but actually infusing the cream itself with flavors. Turns out, using a sort of steeping method to infuse your cream with flavor is super easy, and does not negatively impact whippability.
The method is simple. Add whatever flavor you want to infuse in your cream into your cold cream in a small saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer over medium high heat, then turn the heat off and move the pan to a cold burner and let sit till cooled to room temp. Transfer the whole mixture to a clean container and chill for a minimum of four hours or up to overnight. Strain through a fine mesh strainer and whip to your desired consistency to garnish whatever you like! From fresh chopped herbs like chives or tarragon or basil (I love fresh bay leaf) to whole spices like crushed cardamom pods or coriander seeds, to grated hard cheeses like parmesan or pecorino or grana padano, you can really make some wonderful flavored whipped creams! A pint of cream will need only a teaspoon of a dried spice, two of a dried herb, two tablespoons of a fresh chopped herb, or half a cup of a grated cheese to infuse, but experiment with how intense you like your flavors, and feel free to use more than one. Parmesan rosemary on roasted brussels sprouts, or Grana Padano and chive on a tomato tart.
Use them to garnish soups, stews, or vegetable dishes. Dollop on a savory tart or quiche. Use to fill little puff pastry or phyllo cups or make savory cream puffs or eclairs. Once you start infusing cream and whipping it to clouds of savory deliciousness, your garnish game will totally go next-level.