Reviving Quick and Easy Salt and Pepper Chicken (and 5 Food Photography Tips for the Non-Photographer)

This quick and easy recipe for Salt and Pepper Chicken Breasts is an easy way to cook chicken for dinner. Pair it with your favorite sides — and a sauce, if you like.


If you are a longtime reader of Sarah’s Cucina Bella, you might remember my recipes for Easy Low-Fat Salt and Pepper Chicken Breasts. It was a long post with adorable pictures of the kids, and a bad picture of the chicken. On Tuesday, I had the chance to reshoot this recipe with the help of professionals to figure out how to take something basic like this and make it look fabulous. The photo above is the result.

When I created my (ridiculously easy) recipe for Salt and Pepper Chicken, I was clueless how to make it look tasty in a photograph. I ended up tossing one piece on a white plate and snapping a picture.


The original photo … Would you crave that?

And did it look irresistible? Like that special, easy recipe that everyone should have in their back pocket to make when you have no time to cook dinner or when you need a lightly seasoned chicken breast for topping a salad or drizzling with an extra special sauce? Um. No. That’s the original photo at the right … See how it looked more like a bland piece of chicken? The darkness and poor lighting didn’t help anything at all. I doubt anyone gave it a second look.

As a food writer who has had to learn to shoot photographs of the dishes and recipes I create, it’s been an uphill battle. This photograph frustrated me, but I just wasn’t sure what to do about it.


So, when my buddies (and coworkers!) at Tablespoon asked me to choose a couple potential recipes for my photography lesson with General Mills pros on my recent trip, this one topped the list. Fortunately, they agreed.


A closer look …

The food stylist suggested turning this one recipe into a meal on a plate for better photographing. She made some couscous as a side dish, and that doubled as a way to prop up the chicken, giving it more body in the photograph. For a vegetable, we used a few carefully placed fresh cooked green beans. What a big change, right? I can hardly believe that I took these photos.

I learned so much during my training session, so I wanted to pass along a few tips for you too …

5 Food Photography Tips for the Non-Photographer

  1. Don’t just pick a plate. It’s important that the color and shape of the plate compliments the food. Hold a few up to see which works the best with the colors in whatever you are photographing … or even try the food out on it first. Don’t be afraid to shoot a test shot to see which looks better in the digital realm.
  2. Go small. The smaller the plate, the better your food will look — you really don’t want all that empty space around it, since it will just make the food look diminutive.
  3. Take test shots. Trying to decide which place mat or napkin to use? Choose a few, and put them around the plate so you can compare how they look. Then take a test shot and whittle the linens down. Same goes for plates and other decorations.
  4. Use either complimentary or contrasting colors. You can’t just choose red because you like it. Instead, consider using similar colors (such as a green napkin and plate) or contrasting ones (such as a dark brown plate and a pale khaki napkin). This will make the food stand out.
  5. Don’t let the props/plates/background be distracting. Ultimately, you want the food to stand out, not the decorations that you put around it. So be sure the food is front and center and in focus (and remove anything that overshadows it).

Easy Low-Fat Salt and Pepper Chicken Breasts
serves 4

1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts
kosher salt
course black pepper
olive oil cooking spray

Heat a skillet over medium heat on your stove. Make sure the size of the skillet will hold all the chicken.

Rinse the chicken breasts in cool water and trim away any excess fat. Place in the center of a long (about two feet) sheet of wax paper and fold the paper over the chicken. Use the flat side of a meat mallet to pound the chicken to about 1/4-inch thickness.

Cut each breast into two even pieces. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper on both sides.

Spray the skillet with olive oil cooking spray. Add the chicken to the skillet and cook for 5-7 minutes, until lightly browned on the bottom side. Flip and cook for an additional 5-7 minutes until cooked through.

Remove the chicken from the pan and use as desired.


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