As a Mother and wife, one of my most important tasks and greatest pleasures is to feed my family. Dinner is a gathering time; to regroup, catch up, teach, laugh and bond.
Plating food instead of family style service can also save you from washing extra serving dishes as well as help you control portion size.
Four principles of good plating are:
A typical dinner of protein, starch and vegetables often end up separated on a plate with the ‘don’t touch each other’ principle. Layering your foods can tie all those flavors together and stacking can add height and beauty to a plate. Layering sauces under a dish can create contrast and allow your protein to shine without being smothered in gravy or sauce.
Salad is a great example of the benefits of deconstruction. Instead of tossing all the ingredients together, separate and layer them. Suddenly, it’s colorful and you can visually see what makes this salad special.
A plate of cauliflower, potatoes and halibut is a sad, bland thing. Keep color in mind as you prepare your meals. Save the parsnips for red meat and use something like carrots for chicken. Using color is also a great way to insure you are getting the proper nutrients in each meal, as each color of vegetable generally means different nutritional qualities.
Another aspect of color is to use a nice white plate to show off your food. A beautiful meal can be completely lost on a busy, colorful plate. Also make sure the plate is large enough for your meal. If it’s too small, the food will seem crowded and unappealing.
This final touch can fix a multitude of problems. Lack of color? Add some herbs. Lack of Texture? Add some Frico (Parmesan crisps). Need height? Add a small bunch fresh lemony salad to the top of your protein. Garnishes should always be edible, otherwise it’s confusing and potentially embarrassing.
Here’s a good example of garnishing butternut squash soup.
*Frico is simply a cheese crisp that has been baked in an oven. Shread (I use a micro plane) a hard cheese like Parmesan or Pecorino. Drop approx. ½” on a silpat (on cookie sheet) under a broiler until cheese has melted and started to brown. Remove from oven and let cool a bit. Place in soups or on top of salads for a beautiful, salty garnish.
A few other tips for plating:
• Texture is a big part of good presentation, as well as enjoyment. Contrast hard and soft, smooth and crunchy, salty and sweet etc…
• Keep it clean. Sloppy saucing and stray pieces will take away from your meal-appeal.
• Compartmentalize…all those cute little dishes you see in the stores right now are such a bargain. Usually just a $1 or so. These make great additions to pretty plates… use them to deconstruct a meal by placing sauces or a side dish in them.
You can find more of Sue Neal’s great tips at www.sueneal.blogspot.com