Chiffonade (shihf-uh-NAHD) is one of those terms that conjures up a trick that could be mastered only by a wiz with Cordon Bleu credentials. But the technique can easily be accomplished by anyone with two hands and a kitchen—or at least a cutting board.
Literally translated, chiffonade is French for “made of rags.” As a food term, it refers to very thin shreds—typically leafy vegetables like spinach or herbs like basil—often used as a garnish. To create a chiffonade, remove stems from leaves that have been washed and dried, then stack leaves in a neat pile. (Start with four or five.) Roll into a tight cylinder, and hold firmly with one hand. Using a sharp chef’s knife, cut crosswise into thin strips. See the confetti-like tangle before you? Voila! You have a chiffonade.
A cooking demonstration I recently attended illustrated how exotic language makes ordinary tasks sound impressive: the chef produced a side dish he dubbed “cabbage chiffonade.” Not exactly the way grandma referred to coleslaw. But of course, taste isn’t just in our mouths. Any well-presented dish proves we “eat with our eyes.” And a sophisticated waitperson’s description of a well-crafted menu item will quickly have you “eating with your ears.”
—By Jo Marshall, a food writer in Deephaven, Minn.