It’s the smallest thing, really. Maybe you already do it! But maybe you do not already do it, and you have wondered why the food you cook always seems underwhelming. Probably there are lots of reasons why the food you cook always seems underwhelming, not least among them your pathological inability to value anything of your own creation. But also: Maybe you’re not finishing your damn food!
No, I am not talking about eating all of your food. What I am talking about, here, is what you do to the food you cooked after you have put it on a plate, but before you have taken it to a table and commenced shoveling it into your gnashing maw. The stuff that makes it look and smell and taste better after the cooking part is done. Mostly this just means a quick application of fragrant oil and fresh herbs, or maybe a squeeze of some freshly cut citrus. You can do that, dingus! It takes two seconds.
For example, let’s say you made some pasta. Mmm, pasta! You finish your damn pasta by drizzling it with some extra-virgin olive oil, and giving some fresh herbs—parsley, at first, because it works on virtually anything, but later you’ll play around with basil and mint and tarragon and chives and pea shoots and so on—a quick but thorough chop, and sprinkling these on top. Squeeze a lemon wedge on there if it’s, like, clam sauce or shrimp linguine. Maybe crack some black pepper on there if you want.
Or maybe you made a hearty stir-fry. Nice! Is it so nice that it could not be improved by a very modest last-second drizzling of some good sesame oil and some attractively sliced scallions scattered across the top? No. It is not that nice. Nothing is that nice.
Citrus is good for this. You can vivify the blandest, greyest leftovers with a drizzle of an appropriate flavorful oil, a sprinkling of tarragon or parsley or whatever, and a squeeze of a wedge of lemon or lime. Not the bottled citrus juice shit! The real shit. The good shit. This is a good lifehack for leftovers, but it’s also just a wise food preparation practice.
Even foods that seem like weird fits for this are not weird fits for this. Pot roast? Fresh herbs and black pepper, buddy! Grilled fish? Finely chopped parsley and chives, and a squeeze of fresh citrus! Tacos? Cilantro and lime, dammit! Finishing is like 40 percent of making a satisfying meal. You do not break off a road trip with 40 percent of the distance left to go, unless you are a real horse’s ass!
But my food already has herbs and olive oil and pepper in it, you are saying. I already put that shit in it while it was cooking. Shut up! Shut the damn hell up! That stuff is all cooked to hell. The fresh stuff: It’s fresh. The herbs (or scallions, which technically are not herbs, which brings me back to the “shut up” point) are still green and fresh-smelling. Are you too good for freshness? Hell no! Freshness is too good for you. But you may still partake of it.
Aw, you’re just talking about cosmetics, you are saying. I, A Purist, do not believe in such indulgences. You’re talking nonsense! Here is what happens when you scatter some fresh herbs and oil across the hot, just-now-finished-cooking food on a plate: The hot food heats up the herbs and the oil, stirring loose their pleasant fragrances but not cooking them, which would change those fragrances. This makes your food smell really, really good. The herbs and the oil then get mixed with the bites you take, and the bites you take taste like cooked food, yes, but accented by the taste and smell of fresh herbs and rich oil. This makes your food taste better.
It also, yes, makes your food look better. This is not nothing! A good meal should engage and gratify as many senses as it can, including sight! Good-lookin’ food is better to eat than food that looks like hot trash. It’s just a fact. I don’t make the facts. I just know their asses!
Here is a plate of dumb pasta. It is just some friggin’ shells tossed with a (bright and hot and good, if I may say so!) tomato sauce. That ain’t shit. It’s weeknight food. But: It has fresh herbs (basil in this case, because I forgot to get parsley at the store and we have a basil plant out front) and olive oil and some grated cheese on it.
Hell yeah. Do you not wish to do the sex with it? Of course you do. But you cannot, because I already ate the hell out of it!
Listen. Putting some herbs and oil on your food is not going to cover all the difference between you and some famous TV chef. It’s just a good habit to have. You will like your food more if you take a few seconds to do this sort of thing before you eat it. And then your life will be a little better than it was.