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Last night, I made a Peperonato pasta sauce. It was delicious, but when I added the balsamic vinegar at the end of the dish and then cooked it off (leaving a sweet reduction) it left the whole sauce a rather disgusting brown color. It was just me and my wife, so it didn't matter too much, but it wasn't appetizing to look at it, and I'd have balked at serving it to guests, even though it tastes great.

How could I have fixed this dish? More generally, how can I correct unpleasant coloring in dishes?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

There are things you can do to tweak the colors, but generally it's easy to move towards brown and dark, and hard to move towards a pure shade and light.

You can use food coloring, spices with a lot of color (like turmeric). You can lighten with cornstarch, flour, and dairy. (thanks satanicpuppy)

If presentation is important to you, you can buy ingredients that make it easier to get the colors you want in the final product. For instance, next time you make the dish you could use white balsamic vinegar and a little more sugar.

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Everything Tim Gilbert said, plus dairy. Obviously with an acidic mixture like you're describing, cream is not the best option, but for many other dishes you can lighten the color (and often improve the taste) with the addition of some cream/sour cream/yoghurt/milk. (Yoghurt tastes good, but don't add it to a hot (high temperature, not spicy) sauce, or it will denature and get disgusting).

One thing which I've been known to do with weird-looking pan sauces and reductions is add a bunch of mushrooms...Obviously it changes the whole character of the dish, but since they're dark colored anyway, the coloring passes without comment.

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I totally forgot about dairy. Good point. –  Tim Gilbert Aug 2 '10 at 20:27

Ooh yes, the thick brown ooze on a plate syndrome - been there a few times... :)

Well, another possibility is to not try and fix the color directly, but rather use a garnish to bring some other colors in to play.

There are a lot of really great dishes that if placed in front of you without garnish would look pretty dismal.

Take for example, Chicken Curry... Often this can be any shade of brown, yellow or orange-red. So, after you plate, sprinkle on freshly chopped Coriander (Cilantro) and maybe some flaked Almonds... Voila... you'll be amazed how much better it looks.

For your dish, immediately before taking to the table, I'd sprinkle roughly chopped Basil, Parmigiano-Reggiano, a grind of fresh black pepper and a drizzle of good olive oil. Since your dish is spicy, you might also consider a few flakes of dried or fresh chili pepper (not too much).

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I forgot, maybe also some sprinkles of freshly diced tomato. –  octonion Aug 2 '10 at 21:42

Paprika works as well..

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