A quenelle (say kuh-nell) is a perfectly smooth, rugby-ball scoop of any soft food that instantly upgrades your plating and gives dishes a sophisticated touch. At a fine-dining restaurant, you might see this technique used across dishes throughout your 10-course degustation: in a graceful oval scoop of pate atop a crisp baguette, displayed in a generous dollop of caviar or in a spoonful of tangy tapenade. It might be even more apparent at dessert when ice cream, mousse, whipped cream and sorbet are served in an elegant quenelle.
Cindy Khoo, executive pastry chef of Hilton Singapore, remembers refining this technique under the tutelage of her mentor during her time as commis at Shangri-la Hotel Singapore. “It’s one of the basics we learnt at the start of our culinary journey. It took me a couple of months to be able to execute it confidently. At the beginning, it usually came out of shape or stuck to the spoon and we would have to redo it over and over again.”
Watch this video to see Khoo demonstrate how to quenelle a scoop of ice cream.
She recommends placing the spoon into a container of warm water before scooping. The spoon has to be hot enough to release the quenelle, but not so hot that it immediately melts it. “For stickier, more icy food like sorbets, you may need to rub the back of the spoon in the palm of your hand to release it from the spoon.”
It’s a technique that takes practice but is well worth the effort. “The classic and elegant shape is a timeless design that really elevates the plate by adding a touch of culinary flair to it,” says Khoo.