Food that’s pretty as a picture

When you want to send a recipe to a friend by email or when you post it on Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram, it’s good to have an enticing photo of your creation.

Jessica Koslow's roast chicken salad. (photo credit: BOB HODSON/CHEFSINSIGHT.COM)
Jessica Koslow's roast chicken salad.
With digital cameras and smartphones so common, people often take pictures of food. For special occasion dinners with family or friends, it’s nice to share pictures not only of the people who came, but also of the festive dishes. When you want to send a recipe to a friend by email or when you post it on Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram, it’s good to have an enticing photo of your creation.
We gained insights into making food look appetizing at a recent class on photography for food writers taught by Bob Hodson of Chef’s Insight. At the class, chef Tom Fraker of Melissa’s Produce prepared the food, and Hodson demonstrated how to best capture its beauty with the camera.
Fraker took advantage of the colors of summer fruit to enhance a salad of grilled seafood and greens. He added sliced plums, nectarines and apricots, as well as yellow peppers, sweet mini cucumbers and a citrus dressing. (See recipe.)
In his book Insightful Recipes Volume I, Hodson provides examples of how creative chefs turn common entrées like chicken salad, fried chicken and meat with potatoes into beautiful dishes.
Chef Jessica Koslow’s roast chicken salad is not the standard white, mayonnaise-dressed mixture. It looks attractive thanks to mixed baby lettuces, thin strips of carrot and a softboiled egg for garnish. Koslow uses generous amounts of fresh herbs to flavor the dressing and to sprinkle over her salad. (See recipe.)
The cumin- and turmeric-crusted lamb escalopes with potato made by chef Alfred Prasad look very different from the usual meat-and-potato main course, not only due to the warm spices on the meat, but also because the chef finishes the entrée with briefly sautéed tomato and red onion. For an effective garnish, he scatters coriander leaves over his dish.
Chef Mary Sue Milliken uses a variety of fresh and cooked vegetables to make a colorful entrée from fried chicken. She serves the chicken with a salad of several kinds of beans – dried, green and yellow – combined with red and green chili peppers and green onions. To construct the dish, she tops a tostada (toasted tortilla) with frisée lettuce, then with the bean salad and the fried chicken, and finishes it with avocado slices, purslane sprigs and fresh coriander aioli.
Chefs Jonathan Rollo and Kristi Ritchey use fresh greens to make their easy-to-make pizza more tempting. To prepare it, they spread a whole wheat tortilla with avocado pesto, top it with tomato slices and turkey bacon, and after baking, sprinkle the pizza with shredded romaine lettuce.
Such techniques for embellishing your dishes are useful, whether or not you are photographing the food.
If you want to take pictures of your food, here are tips from food photographer Bob Hodson:
• Brush or spray food, such as grilled food, with olive oil to make it shinier.
• Alcohol wipes are more effective than paper towels for cleaning the edges of plates.
• When food is ready, shoot it right away. Do not to let it sit because it changes. Liquids blend together, hot food causes fresh leaves to wilt and delicate cakes sink.
• Shoot a photo of a plate the way the diner receives it; or you can “go high, go low or spin the plate.” “Spin the plate” means that after taking a photo, you rotate the plate and shoot again. Shoot from different heights or angles to change the effect and make certain elements of the dish more prominent. Take plenty of shots to have more choices.
• Consider leaving the edge of the plate or bowl in the picture. “If you don’t see the edge, there’s nothing to hold onto.”
• Sometimes a step in the preparation of a dish, and not the finished plate, makes the most interesting photograph.
• “It’s better not to zoom with your camera. Instead get closer to the food for better results.” If you zoom with the camera, when you enlarge the picture, it looks grainy.
• Try to choose the best light. If you’re shooting breakfast food, shoot it in the morning so the light looks natural.
• If your light is coming from a window and you want a more dramatic look, shoot with the window to your right or to your left, so the light is coming from the side. Doing this helps show the texture of the food.
• Direct sunlight gives a harsh light. Professionals place a diffuser above the food to get a softer light. It works like a lampshade, which softens the light of a bulb.
• If you’re trying to shoot food in a dark environment such as a dimly lit restaurant using a phone or point-and-shoot camera, the worst light you could use is your flash.
The best thing to do is to take the food to a source of light. If that isn’t feasible, you should turn your camera’s ISO setting to a high number. You could also open up your camera’s aperture to get as much light as possible, but in this case, it’s good to use a tripod and a self-timer.
• To photograph ingredients from above, you may need to stand on a step ladder.
“I like to shoot from overhead because it makes a cool design. I always try to make what I shoot look as if it’s artwork.”
Faye Levy is the author of the award-winning book Classic Cooking Techniques.
Tom Fraker’s stone fruit appetizer salad
This salad with its fat-free citrus dressing is tasty on its own. You can also serve it topped with grilled chicken strips.
Makes 2 servings
■ 2 nectarines, pits removed, cut into wedges
■ 2 plum-apricots or apricots, pits re moved, cut into wedges
■ 2 plums, pits removed, cut into wedges
■ 1 mini cucumber, ends trimmed, sliced
■ 1 small sweet yellow pepper, stem and seeds removed, diced
■ 1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
■ ¼ cup red wine vinegar
■ Juice of 1 fresh lime
■ 2 tsp. agave nectar
■ Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
■ 4 cups mixed baby lettuces
In a mixing bowl, gently toss together the nectarines, the plum-apricots, the plums, the cucumber and the yellow pepper.
In another mixing bowl, whisk together the orange juice, vinegar, lime juice, agave nectar and salt and pepper to taste.
To serve, place equals amounts of the lettuce mix on 2 plates. Top the greens with equal amounts of the fruit and vegetable mix. Drizzle with the dressing and serve.
Jessica Koslow’s roast chicken salad
This recipe is adapted from Insightful Recipes Volume I by Chef’s Insight. Allow time to dry-brine the chicken for 5 to 8 hours. With kosher chicken, you may want to use less salt.
Makes 4 servings
■ 4 eggs
■ 8 cups lettuce
■ 2 cups roasted chicken (recipe below)
■ 8 small carrots, sliced thinly with a peeler
■ 8 Tbsp. shaved or diced cucumbers
■ 3 to 4 Tbsp. finely cut chives
■ 8 Tbsp. herb dressing (recipe below), or to taste
■ Finishing salt, pepper and fresh lemon juice to taste
■ 1 cup chicken skin, crumbled (recipe below)
To make soft boiled eggs: Put eggs in a pot with water to cover, bring to a boil, turn water down to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Remove eggs with a slotted spoon and place into an ice bath. Remove shells carefully, and place eggs into cold water until ready to use.
Mix the lettuce, chicken, carrots, cucumber, most of the chives and enough dressing to moisten the mixture. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding salt, pepper and lemon juice if needed. To finish, cut the egg in half and set atop the salad. Add the crumbled chicken skin, a bit of chives and finishing salt.
Roast chicken and chicken skin:
■ A 1.4- to 1.8-kg. (3- to 4-pound) chicken
■ Kosher (coarse) sea salt
■ Fresh cracked pepper
■ 1 whole lemon, cut in two
■ Sprigs of fresh thyme and rosemary
■ Canola oil for deep frying
Best to start this in the morning: Season chicken’s skin and a bit of the cavity with ¾ tsp. kosher salt per 450 gr. (1 pound) of chicken and pepper liberally. Place on a plate, stuff the interior with the lemon pieces, thyme and rosemary sprigs and cover loosely. Refrigerate to “dry brine” for 5-8 hours.
Pat chicken with a paper towel. Preheat oven to 246ºC (475ºF). Heat a 25-30 cm. (10- 12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat and when it is piping hot, place the chicken in it. You should hear the sound of a sear.
Place chicken into the center of the oven for 20 minutes. The skin should look brownish, and at this point baste the bird.
After 30 minutes, turn the bird breast side down and roast for 10 minutes, turning the pan from front to back as well. Depending on size, flip the bird back over to continue crisping the entire skin. Total cooking time will be between 45 minutes and one hour, or until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 74ºC (165ºF).
Take chicken out of the oven and let it rest. When cool, remove meat from bones, keeping the meat and skin separate.
Heat canola oil to 177ºC (350ºF). Fry chicken skin until crisp. Transfer to paper towels.
Herb Dressing:
■ 3 garlic cloves
■ Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
■ 3 Tbsp. chopped rosemary
■ 3 Tbsp. chopped tarragon
■ 1 Tbsp. chopped thyme
■ ¼ cup chopped parsley
Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons (about 4 to 6 Tbsp. juice), or more juice to taste
About 6 Tbsp. olive oil Chop garlic finely, add salt and mix with the back of your knife to a smooth paste; to do this, slowly add salt, until there’s enough to draw liquid out of the garlic and create a paste.
In a food processor, chop the herbs and garlic paste. With the motor running, add the zest and juice of the lemons. With the motor still running, slowly add enough olive oil for a dressing-like consistency.
Add salt, pepper and more lemon juice to taste.