As a break from recipes we thought we would share some ideas on how to present food nicely. This is the second of a two part series of articles. In our last post we talked about recipe planning, ingredient preparation, and the importance of complementary flavours and textures. We certainly don’t eat this way 99% of the time, but with the Festive season ahead, we hope these tips will help you plan your special meals and enjoy making them look ‘plated’!
Let’s have a look at dishes coming out from some of the restaurants we admire. We can take inspiration and try using similar principles to plate food nicely on special occasions.
This first dish, from Restaurant Alimentum – a fillet of fish, cooked with a herb and seed crust and served with squash cooked in a variety of ways.
You can see it is all very –
- Neat – clean, tidy plates, carefully arranged composition.
- Uniform – the cubes and cylinders of squash are all the same size.
- Blank (space) – the plate is your canvas. Use a large plate and have lots of blank space. It looks good.
- Odd (numbers) – three cylinders and five cubes of squash. Pleasing to the eye.
- Varied – shapes, textures and dimensions (vertical and horizontal space is used)
So once you have sorted out the ingredients and planned your dish, here are some key rules of how to plate food like a pro.
Don’t plate from the cooking pot.
Prepare the components of your dish and have them ready in separate pans or dishes.
All cleaned up, drained, tidied, trimmed as necessary –
Decant cooked ingredients onto a tray to avoid accidents and allow perfect composition.
Drain off the cooking juices/water/oil from cooked ingredients.
Have every component prepped to the final stage before you start to plate the dish.
When chopping ingredients, try to cut them into equal shapes and sizes. Uniformity is attractive. Use a mandolin or a good sharp knife.
Another tip is to cut on the diagonal when slicing things.
The dish below is from a supper club we held. Scallops encased in a spiced prawn roulade. We sliced the portions at an angle to stack them nicely onto a layer of cauliflower puree (which also helped to stick them to the plate and stop them rolling off!)
Thinking about plates.
In general, most dishes will work well with a round, white plate.
Increasingly restaurants are using neutrals and organic natural colours (stone, concrete, slate colours).
They look very nice with most types of food but if you are limited in space or budget, stick to a white dinner set.
Restrain the amount of food you put on the dish. You can always offer more in side plates and bowls.
This dessert dish from Alimentum is a combination of mango (in various forms) and meringue. Even though the photograph is focused in tightly, you can see there is a good amount of empty space around the composition.
This beer grilled fillet of beef with Wasabi salsa is taken from the Japanese restaurant Kurobata (Photo credit to my friend Kavey, whose review you can find here). Same principles – a big dish (again the trendy organic feel to this vessel), thinly and neatly cut slices of meat, arrange the vegetables and some garnish with green. Simple, light, not overwhelming.
Be organised and be clean.
Wash and dry your hands before plating. We don’t want juices or bits of food smearing the plate.
A palette knife is good for lifting food onto the plate or smoothing surfaces. We have an angled one that helps with lifting out of or into deeper dishes neatly and precisely.
Use kitchen paper towels to wipe smears away rather than your used tea towel…hygeine basics but easy to overlook in the speed of things.
Tools that help to get things looking nice.
For finishing touches, you will benefit from a few tools – most of them inexpensive and widely available.
A squeezy bottle is a good way of dispensing sauces – like we did to portion out the buffalo sauce on these breaded prawns.
And to dot some sriracha around this cod served up with salsa verde.
A scraper is useful to spread and smear sauces on the plate, though you can also use the back of a soup spoon or ladle. An example is the smear of cauliflower puree in this dish which we served up with sous vide lamb shank.
A fine pair of tweezers to plate herbs and tiny bits of salad garnish is great if you want to be really pro, but to be honest, this is not entirely necessary especially if you have a reasonably steady hand.
Plate upwards as well as outwards.
You can see in our lamb shank example and in the first picture from Alimentum – try and add some element of different layers or height to your dish.
This dish, another picture by Kavey, demonstrates two things – using different textures as well as adding height using crisply fried slices of vegetable. Makes you want to dive in and pick at the dish.
When it comes to it, we have written this so you can have some fun and experiment with the presentation of your food.
Of course nothing works better than practice. Try one or two of the ideas out. We had some fun learning about food styling and photography at the Food Blogger Connect conference recently in London. That was a great opportunity to meet up with some fellow bloggers, and I was lucky to be put up in a lovely room at the Novotel in Heathrow during my stay. This budget priced hotel exceeded my expectations. It is very convenient for the airport. The rooms are clean, modern with super crisp bedlinen. The bathroom is well stocked, and there is a lovely pool. Breakfast is ok. Nothing special but a huge buffet, certainly enough to see you through to a late lunch.
Disclosure – we were provided a room at the Novotel. All views are our own. No financial compensation was received.
We would love to hear what tools and presentation ideas you use. Share your thoughts in the comments below!