Saturday, January 23, 2010

Simple Steak. And Food Photography Gone to Hell.

So, the intent was to tell you about this simple steak I do, give you the recipe and shoot a couple pictures, so you know what the hell I'm doing.

Anyone who shoots food knows that this is a tricky affair in the best of circumstances. It is a dance of lighting and equipment and sagging, limp food and soup that looks vibrant and awesome in the pot and like little floating poop turds in the frame.

It is also about having to keep a hungry throng of people away from the food long enough to shoot it. Run out of the room long enough to grab a wide angle lens and the next thing you know, someone is snarfing down the haricots verts you painstakingly placed on a plate just the right way for the last ten minutes. And don't get me started on all the times the family has had to wait for a meal because "the light is good" and "I have to shoot this for tomorrow's post".

Last week, I actually found myself hovering over the dinner table, zooming the lens down on the kids eating and saying things like, "Okay, grab that piece of meat just like that and put it to your lips...nope, don't curl your finger like that...yep, just like that, but try not to wrinkle your nose...your nose, not your lips, no...don't laugh, please just one...oh, okay laugh, that's good, that's good...snap."

And that's when I get pictures of my daughter with food hanging out of her mouth, looking like a ferrel puppy. Sigh.

It's gotten so bad, the kids barely know how to eat without photo direction and a flurry of filler flash. They see a camera and they pose instinctively like little Pavlovian dogs. Which is why they have no problem dismantling any attempts I make at formal food photography. It is their great revenge.

So, this is one of the steak shots I got, and it's nothing special, but it's fine and it's good that it's fine because Lucy and Edie see that I am doing something that is not paying attention to them and they decide they want to be a part.

And within minutes, there are feet and body parts on my cutting board. Appendages and limbs and stinky kid feet in my picture.

And things are being moved around. Man-handled.

Shallots become noses because, well, shallots make good clown noses.

And the wine bottle was the Daddy and the tomatoes were the kids...or some crazy shit like that.

And then, they like forgot I was even in the room or that I was trying to do something IMPORTANT, they launched into an elaborate dialog between vegetable and glass container, er, I mean, "Daddy' and the Tomato "kids" It was riveting.

And then they ate the food I was going to shoot. That's nice. Didn't want to take that picture anyway.

And it's possible they were going to throw these shallots at me.

Are they humongous shallots or really small onions? I can't tell anymore.

Just eat the steak. Imagine it's awesomeness. Please.

xo YM


Simple Steak

I served this steak with Duck Fat Tarragon Fries, which are simply french fries cooked in duck fat and salted and sprinkled with fresh tarragon after they have drained in a paper towel. Edie is a fan of the fries, so they get made regularly.

I usually use boneless short ribs for this steak recipe, but you can use any cut of good, fatty steak and get nearly the same result. It's all good.

Marinate the short ribs. I won't bother you with exact amounts, just eyeball it. Put them in a bowl, add a little olive oil, salt, pepper, thin slivers of garlic, a hand full of roughly chopped cilantro, a dash of light soy sauce, five or six shakes of fish sauce, a little sesame oil (not too much, it's potent stuff), a little squeeze of lemon and drop any left over lemon right in the bowl after squeezing. Get the ribs covered and soaking in the marinade.

Let the short ribs sit in the marinade for 20-30 minutes.

Heat a cast iron pan on high heat until it is very hot. Pick a steak out of the bowl with a fork, shake off excess marinade and put it right in the pan. It should sizzle. Do the same with the rest. Leave the steak to cook on one side until it has a nice char on it, 5 minutes. Flip the steaks over and char the other side. 5 minutes.

Turn the heat down to medium. Add the left-over marinade to the pan. Cook another 5 minutes (another 5 minutes for well), covered, and remove the steaks and put them on a platter. Let them rest for 10 minutes while you make a little gravy.

Adjust heat a little lower, so juices aren't boiling. Scrape up any little steak bits on in the pan and let them get in there with the marinade. Add a good size lump of butter to the juices, a little wine, maybe a finely chopped shallot, some capers. Taste for salt. Add herbs, if you like. Let sauce simmer a bit until meat is rested.

Serve steaks with fries and spoon gravy over both.



blissmamaof3 said...

I hear you! I cannot believe how challenging food photography is. So glad to know I'm not alone in my pursuit to capture what looks great in the pot on the camera. I'm usually nudging a large black lab out of the way as well as dancing around the other lab at my feet, in addition to the three hungry banshees wailing at the table. We just keep on keeping on...

Kate said...

Not to mention the danger of bare stinky kid feet laying so close to ultra sharp knives!!

No Blue Food said...

You mean you're not supposed to just snap a fuzzy picture with your camera phone, in whatever level of perpetual darkness your apartment currently is? Well damn, I'm gonna have to start ALL over...

The Yummy Mummy said...

No Blue Food - Great to meet you! Just saw your blog and your pictures are quite good, dear. Despite taking them in utter darkness and with non-camera-like devices. They aren't even fuzzy for heaven's sake.

Truth is, I do almost all my shooting at our "country house" because there is so much natural light. Our apartment is dark and shadowed as well. Not a single good picture can be had in this cave!

Warner (aka ntsc) said...

I gave my wife a small digital camera for Xmas. She now does her own photography.

Anne said...

I actually took some nice pictures in your apartment a while back. But I'm sure it was during those 3.4 seconds of a day when Venus is in retrograde or whatves. Plus my kid couldn't walk back then so I was under the illusion I had some control in my life.

Love all your pix, btw.

Unplanned Cooking said...

Such cute pictures! Love the wine bottle between them :).

Lauren said...

Ugh, yes food photography is so tricky. Especially when you're hungry and just don't have the patience. I love the wine bottle and produce as toys though. We have a great video of my little brother age 6 months using a wine bottle and lighter as rattles.

No Blue Food said...

That makes me feel better about it, thanks! Technical question for you - how in the world do you get the comments to your posts to SHOW on your posts? I've been messing with the format settings all morning, and nothing I do will make it happen. Rawr.

Kristen In London said...

Yes, yes, I hear you about "don't eat that till I have a photo for the blog." Awful.

A question about your duck fat fries: do you 1) soak your cut your potatoes in salted water before? and 2) fry them once, chill them, then fry them again?


Grapefruit said...

Just stumbled across your blog & I love all the photos of your kids! Not just in this post but throughout your blog. I love photographing my kids at candid moments.

Am really struggle with taking photos of food mainly because my appt. is dark and gloomy and also because I don't know a whole lot about photographing food but am trying to teach myself as I go along.

Grapefruit said...

I meant I'm really struggling. Gah!
Can't focus on what I'm writing when my kids are hovering around.