Elevate Your Cocktails with These Garnish Tips

Dehydration is key, we learned from Sweet Polly head bartender Sean McClure.

Tools of the trade.

On a sunny November afternoon, New Yorkers stroll in parks and along riversides. Members of the The Collective gather at Pier A Harbor House. Sean McClure, head bartender at Sweet Polly, is leading a workshop in improving the garnish game.

Angel’s Envy provides spirits for cocktails and tools for participants: notebooks, cutting boards and ceramic paring knives.

Side tables bear glasses of edger scissors, fresh edible flowers, fruit, vegetables and paper-thin slices of dehydrated pineapple. The future is enticingly textured.

Whatever piece of produce you’re using, McClure has one piece of unarguable advice: shop wisely: “If you don’t start with a beautiful product, you’re definitely not going to end up with a beautiful garnish.” While he talks, McClure uses a citrus zester to carve intricate lines in a lime. He cuts the fruit into wedges. The arching patterns make each slice elegant. “There’s no right or wrong way to score fruit,” McClure says, and adds, “It takes practice.”

Waste not. McClure suggests covering leftover peel with sugar and turning it into oleo, using it in syrups for daiquiris and gimlets, or making a tincture with Everclear and adding citrus flavors to cocktails without using juice.

A pineapple flower.

He cuts produce with a Chiba turning slicer. Let soft fruit spend time in the freezer before cutting it. For dehydrators, he recommends Excalibur, which has adjustable temperatures. For most fruits, McClure sets his dehydrator to 135F. Citrus slices dry in 12 gloriously unsupervised hours.

Slicing and drying are the alpha and omega, but not the alphabet. Between the two, McClure poaches ribbons of of apple in cinnamon syrup, which adds flavor and makes the fruit easier to handle. How easy? You can twist apple ribbons into shapes before drying them. Another pretty trick: overlap slices of strawberry in the dehydrator, making hearts or flowers or whatever suits the drinks and the season. Courtesy of fruit and pectin, the drying slices will cohere, putting all-natural prefab intricacy at hand.

McClure balances a pineapple slice atop a jigger and takes a torch to it. As it warms, the dehydrated slice wilts. McClure grabs the slice and closes a fist around the middle, folding the pineapple into a giant flower. Edible flowers are edible, but pineapple flowers taste good.

A garnish that looks fabulous, tastes sweet, is made in-house and has serious dramatic flair—that’s a tip that’s worth a tip on every table or bar.

Join the Edible Collective and you’ll be joining the Edible Community. The Collective is made up of the people who make what we eat and drink.

The Collective‘s goal is to create a culture of collaboration up and down the food and drink chain. Think of it as a roundtable where bartenders, chefs, makers and farmers share ideas, education, enlighten and enhance skills.

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