There are some meals that we make that taste absolutely fabulous, but you will never see them pictured here…because they look like – to quote the redoubtable Chef Gordon Ramsay – the dog’s dinner. Sorry – unattractively plated food is something I just can’t bring myself to photograph, and frankly, I wish other people wouldn’t either. That being said, I’m certainly not suggesting you throw it away – unless, of course, it tastes as bad as it looks.
If you checked out my Spicy Zucchini Slaw recipe, I mentioned the Crunchy Chipotle Lime Crusted Cod we’d had for dinner earlier in the week and the deliberate leftovers we’d saved for the fish tacos. The fish tasted great, but I had left it in big, long pieces when I breaded it (an epic mistake). After I’d cooked it perfectly, that wonderfully flaky fish fell to pieces when I tried to remove it from the pan. NOT a pretty picture.
Another dreadfully plated item occurred a couple of weeks ago. I’d found some lovely little round tip steaks in the Manager’s Special bin and I decided to pound them out and make little roulades. I stuffed them with a mixture of mozzarella fresca, olive oil, sweet peppers and spices. They were so small that I chose silicone bands to keep them closed rather than pins. It worked perfectly, and I was quite proud of myself…until I looked at the cooked meat. Oh dear. My little roulades resembled something a dog might leave on your lawn. I’m really not kidding. Fortunately, Jon and I were able to have a good laugh about it, then we sliced them into little discs, which made a significant improvement in the plating, and the flavor combination was incredible!
The point of these sad stories of disappointing culinary aesthetics is that you can’t let perfect be the enemy of good. (An aphorism of a quote by Voltaire.) Be honest. Bolognese (or Ragu) hasn’t been around for generations and become a staple of Italian cuisine because it’s nice to look at. And to take a look at the other side of the coin, I have also had some beautifully plated meals that made me eager to dig in, only to leave me wishing I’d ordered the meatloaf. A good meal is about what you put into it – the ingredients, the thought and the creativity. Those are what make each meal special. It’s a nice bonus, of course, if it looks appetizing and attractive as well.
The old saying “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” has a lot of truth here. It’s all about improvisation. In the kitchen, there is nothing quite like the ability to adjust your plan when things don’t go as expected. If you suddenly discover that you’re missing an ingredient, or the sour cream in the fridge has become a science experiment, you can’t let it send you into a panic. Root around in there and see what else you can find to get your creative juices flowing. You never know, you might discover your new favorite dish.
Last night, Jon desperately wanted pizza for dinner, but the chicken in the fridge had reached the “use or freeze by” date, so I put my foot down. Made him a bit grouchy. I decided to experiment with the chicken – and came up with a rather nice marsala and tarragon concoction with mushrooms and tomatoes. As the sauce reduced, and I let Jon taste it, he agreed that the flavor was quite nice, then asked, “How are you planning to plate it?” and “Are you going to try and get a photo of that?” rather dismissively. Still pouting about the pizza, I guess. I admit, it’s not the prettiest plate I’ve ever seen, but it wasn’t so bad I refused to photograph it, so there’s that.
My Marsala & Tarragon concoction
As always, good luck with your endeavors, but as I said earlier, don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.