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Reviving Quick and Easy Salt and Pepper Chicken Breasts (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.

Quick and Easy Salt and Pepper Chicken Breasts

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 Breasts, 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.

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.

The food stylist suggested turning this one recipe into a meal on a plate for better photographs. 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).
Yield: 4 servings

Easy Low-Fat Salt and Pepper Chicken Breasts

Easy Low-Fat Salt and Pepper Chicken Breasts


  • 1 lb chicken breasts
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil cooking spray


  1. Heat a large skillet on your stove’s medium setting.
  2. Rinse the chicken breasts 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 ¼ inch thickness.
  3. Cut each breast into 2-3 pieces.
  4. Spray the skillet with olive oil cooking spray. Sprinkle the chicken liberally with salt and pepper.
  5. Place the chicken salt and peppered side down on the skillet. Sprinkle the other side with salt and pepper too. Cook for a few minutes on each side until opaque and cooked through. Remove pan from the burner and set aside (or just use the chicken like that).


Alternatively, you can purchase chicken that has been thin sliced, however you will pay a big premium for it and really, pounding and cutting chicken doesn’t take that long or that much effort. I keep a pinch bowl filled with a 1:1 ratio of salt and pepper next to my stove at all times. It’s a great, inexpensive and easy way to flavor meat in a hurry. It also is great on veggies. Just make sure you pinch with clean hands.

The Teacher Cooks

Monday 8th of November 2010

What a great photograph!


Monday 8th of November 2010

Your chicken certainly does look more appetising this time around. Well done you and thanks for the tops too.


Thursday 4th of November 2010

Thanks for sharing those tips! I'm always looking for ways to learn to improve my food photos!

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