A relish fork is an eating utensil designed to fit into small containers of relish and other condiments so that diners can extract a small serving with which to dress their food. It is also sometimes referred to generically as a condiment fork, and a seafood pick may be used to serve the same purpose. Using a relish fork can help to keep condiment jars clean and tidy, and it can also reduce the risk of food contamination. In addition, it is considered a proper addition to a formally set table. Many kitchen supply stores sell these forks in an assortment of designs and shapes.
Most people think of a relish fork as a miniature fork, since it does resemble a small fork. However, a few things distinguish a relish fork from other small forks. The first is the number and configuration of the tines. A relish fork may have two or three tines, and they tend to be set close together to hold the condiment while allowing liquid to drain. They may also be slightly splayed at the ends, so the fork will be able to hold more food. In addition, this fork has a very slim profile so that it can fit into small containers.
Usually, condiments are set out with a relish fork. Diners are supposed to dip the fork into the condiment to serve themselves, and then replace the fork when they are done. This ensures that diners do not accidentally transfer particles of other foods into the condiment by using their own forks. Since the specialized serving tool is specifically designed for condiments, it also keeps the table cleaner, as guests should not have to fight with larger utensils, potentially spilling condiments as they try to extract them.
Both metal and wood are used to make these forks. Metal tends to be more formal, either silver or stainless steel, and a metal fork may also be etched or embossed with a decorative pattern. A wooden fork tends to have a more rustic feel, and it interacts well with acidic condiments, since the wood will not tarnish like silver would. Some cooks maintain a stock of both for different occasions.
When purchasing a relish fork, it is generally a good idea to get multiples. Buying a set of the forks ensures that all of the condiment forks at the table will match when multiple condiments are set out. It is also insurance against loss, as the small forks do have a tendency to disappear or sink to the bottom of crowded silverware drawers. Since a relish fork is so small, it is usually better to hand wash it, as it may pop out of the silverware rack in a dishwasher.