Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dungeness Crab with Three Sauces

Even though we've been poor lately, every once in a while we like to throw a little dinner party and invite our favorite couple over.

Crabby and Crabella are without a doubt two of our favorite crustaceans. The last time we had them over, I didn't take a proper picture of them, so I made up for that this time with a nice studio portrait:

Cooked dungeness crabs

For some reason, they look a bit sad. Not sure what that was about; marital problems maybe. They didn't talk about it. In fact, they were very quiet all through dinner.

Anyway, they are a delicious couple and we're always happy to see them, although digging out all that crab meat is a tedious chore.

Tonight we decided to go very simple: shredded crab meat and three different dipping sauces. They were all divine, though I think the lemon garlic butter sauce was my favorite.

Shredded crab with sauces

The Food (Jhan)

Who doesn't like crab? It's so delicious and except for the cracking part, it's an easy meal to put together. For this dinner I made three dipping sauces and some garlic bread, add a little wine and voila, dinner is served.

The first sauce was a spicy lemon-garlic butter sauce (we used the leftovers as the sauce for our crab and pasta dinner the following night). The butter sauce is just equal parts of olive oil and butter melted together or 1 cube of butter melted, 3 cloves of garlic, about a 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning (crush it in your palm first to bring out the flavors), some Montreal Grill seasoning - a few shakes, about 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley, 1/4 tsp paprika, 1 tbsp each green onion and chives, Kosher salt, Tabasco to your taste ( 1/2 tsp or so), 1/2 lemon and its zest. Put everything into the food processor just to combine. Sauce should be lumpy.

This sauce is lemony so you may want to add lemon sparingly if you prefer less lemon flavor. (If you use this as a pasta sauce you'll want to put your crab in the sauce and saute for a couple minutes and then add the cooked pasta with a little pasta water, let that reduce a bit and then add fresh parsley, chives and grated Parmesan on top - it's really good this way!)

Our second sauce was a basil aioli. 1/3 cup mayonnaise, 1/3 cup sour cream, 1/2 cup packed chopped basil,1-2 cloves garlic minced,lemon juice to taste, salt and pepper. Mix all, serve well chilled. I really liked this sauce, the basil added an unusual touch. I also used it as a dip the next day for crostini with Parmesan cheese.

A lemon aioli was our third sauce.This is a typical aioli: 1/2 - 2/3 cup Mayonnaise, 1-2 cloves minced garlic, chives chopped fine, lemon juice to taste, lemon zest, salt and pepper, mix and chill well. This sauce really complemented the crab and wasn't too heavy.

Cleaning and cracking the crabs is time consuming but well worth it, we got two dinners and a lunch out of the crabs and I'm sure that if we hadn't just gorged ourselves the first night we could have even come up with extra crab for the freezer. These were such a nice treat and the variety of sauces made it a fun and tasty experience.

Shredded dungeness crab and lemon butter sauce

The Plating

My mantra lately has been simple, simple, simple, and I kept to that in this shoot. But I took the opposite approach to color than I did for the goat shanks. There you had a relatively dark dish, so it made sense to contrast that with light plates and light table cloth. For this shoot, I had crab meat with three light colored sauces. White dishes and table cloth aren't the best combo when it comes to bringing out the color and textures of light colored foods, so I broke out the black plates and bowls.

Unfortunately, I only had two black bowls, so I put the lemon garlic butter sauce is a glass cup. But that actually worked really well because you can actually see the light shining through the glass into the sauce (above). Overall, the simple black plating accentuates the colors and textures of the food wonderfully. I need to buy more black dishes.

Shredded crab with lemon garlic sauce

The Lighting and Photography

Shredded crab lighting set upFor this shoot I used virtually the same lighting I used for the goat shanks: key light to the right, placed low and bounced off of a sheet, fill light to the rear through a reflector (two stops below the key), secondary fill bounced off the ceiling (three stops below the key), and a piece of white foam core to the left of the dish to provide a bit of added fill. The only real difference in the lighting was the addition of the secondary fill bounced off the ceiling; you can see the effect of that in the photo below where there appears to be a bit of an extra glow to the basil sauce.

Even though this dish was black on black instead of white on white like the goat shanks, this lighting set up worked extremely well. This might easily become my go-to lighting setup for food photography.

Shredded crab with basil sauce

Lessons Learned

I'm really beginning to think the one of the biggest keys to successful food photography is finding a way to bring out the textures of the food. And just as with landscape photography, the key to bringing out textures is a side light placed low to the horizon.

The other key to bringing out the textures in food is to find a way to make the food stand out from its environment (the plates and tabletop). One way to do that is to plate light food on dark plates and dark food on light plates. That isn't always possible, but it certainly helps when it is.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Braised Goat Shanks

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted out of the blue by a local family farm. They had seen some of my agriculture photos and wanted to know if I would like to come out and take pictures at their farm.

Braised Goat Shank

So I drove out to Chaffin Family Orchards near Oroville and met Chris Kerston, a sort of farming/marketing jack of all trades for the farm. Not only does he work with the orchards and the livestock (chickens, goats, cows), but he also handles marketing for the farm as well as the farm's online Twitter presence.

He took me on a tour of the Chaffin family operation, which includes olives, peaches, oranges, grapefruit, and even a few avocados, as well as grass fed beef and goats. Their property includes a corner of Table Mountain as well, and I was able to go up and look at the incredible view.

So what does any of this have to do with incredibly delicious braised goat shanks pictured above? Absolutely nothing. It was just an interesting experience, nothing more.

Actually, at the end of my tour of the farm, Chris gave me a pair of frozen goat shanks to take home, and that's where the dish above came from. And let me tell you, they were amazingly delicious. Goat isn't all that different from beef in flavor and texture; it isn't weird or gamy, so don't hesitate to try it.

If you can't make it out to the farm, Chaffin Family Orchards has a booth every Saturday at the Chico Downtown Farmer's Market. Go. Buy some goat shanks. You won't regret it.

The Food (Jhan)

Goat meat, wow! I guess Tony was a little leery about bringing home goat meat. I understand. After all, I've only been eating red meat meat again for about a year or so, but I have students who eat goat all the time so why not? I was actually eager to try it. (It was so nice of the folks at Chaffin Family Orchards to send home some goodies for us!)

In my mind I figured that goat must be like lamb but when I went on the internet to look for recipes and information I learned a lot. This was a great meal. The goat meat was fairly lean compared to beef but very similar in texture and taste. I highly recommend trying goat if you have the opportunity.

I decided that since we had shanks the best way to cook them would be in the slow cooker. Since I kept reading that the taste was similar to beef I came up with a recipe I thought would not only bring out the flavor of the meat but that would ensure that the goat shanks were very tender. I've been very busy lately so I also wanted to make a one pot meal and cut down on the clean up (which was one reason for the carrots that Tony dislikes - although he told me later that they tasted great with the sauce).

Slow cooked Goat shank

Use a Medium sized slow cooker

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon bacon grease
  • 2 goat shanks
  • 4 cloves garlic crushed
  • 1 14.4 oz can tomatoes
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 11/4 cups chicken stock ½ cup chopped carrot
  • 1 ½ large or 2 medium yellow onions cut into eighths
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 8 oz. whole baby carrots
  • 4 small – medium potatoes peeled and cut into chunks

  1. Heat bacon grease and 1 tbsp olive oil in a heavy skillet
  2. Dry goat shanks and season well with salt and pepper
  3. Brown shanks well on all sides – 5-7 minutes (med high heat), remove from skillet to slow cooker
  4. Add remaining tablespoon olive oil to skillet; heat to medium
  5. Add onions, carrots, and garlic to skillet; sauté until onions are tender and slightly browned
  6. Transfer veggies to slow cooker; arrange shanks on top of veggies
  7. Add wine and chicken stock to skillet; bring to a boil scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan
  8. Add canned tomatoes, rosemary and oregano; simmer for 3-5 minutes
  9. Pour over shanks and veggies in slow cooker
  10. Set slow cooker to Low, time for 3 hours
  11. After 3 hours open cooker and add carrots and potatoes (on top of goat shanks)
  12. Close cooker and cook on Low for 4 hours or until potatoes and carrots are very tender and meat is falling off the bone
  13. Open the cooker and remove the potatoes and baby carrots, serve along side meat as is or mash potatoes as a bed for the meat.
  14. Serve that meat au jus or puree the sauce and make a rue to thicken into very tasty gravy.
  15. Sprinkle dish with chopped rosemary for a nice extra pop! of flavor

Braised Goat Shank

The Plating

I've been trending away from complex setups with silverware, glasses, and other props, mostly because I don't see much of that in most of the food photography that I like. The images I like are all about the food and the presentation - nothing else. So I opted for only a plate and a place mat for this shoot. But I did want to try two different presentations for the dish (we had two shanks after all, and why should mine be the only one that was stone cold by the time we got to eat it?).

The first plating (above) was simply the shank on a plate with some sauce, a few sautéed mushrooms, and a sprig of rosemary for color. Simple, strong and effective.

But I've been itching to use a fancy plate I have and the shank was the perfect size for it, so I did a second presentation (below). I propped the shank on a pile of potatoes, sprinkled some chopped rosemary on it, and dressed the plate with some asparagus (which I love) and cooked carrots (which I despise) for color.

Personally, I like the simpler presentation above better, but they both work.

Braised Goat Shank

Lighting and Photography

Braised Goat Shank LightingThis was one shoot that I knew how I wanted to light in advance and everything came out almost exactly the way I imagined. Finally! However, it's way too soon to even think that I might be getting some idea of what I'm doing. Personally, I think I just got lucky.

The lighting was extremely simple: Key light placed to the right and bounced off a sheet, and fill light placed to the rear through a reflector. I positioned the key light very low, about ten inches above the table top, in order to create longer shadows and bring out the texture in the food. I added a piece of white foam core to the left of the dish (not pictured) to fill in the shadows.

I also varied the strength of the fill light from 1/8th to equal to the power of the key light to increase or decrease the reflections on the dish. Compare the image above with the one below. In the image below, I increased the strength of the fill light to the same power as the key light. Given the angle, the rear fill light actually appears to be the predominant light.

Braised Goat Shank

Lessons Learned

I'm not sure that I actually learned anything new this time around other than if I can remember and do everything that I've learned so far, I can actually get good results that are actually what I envisioned. And that's a pretty big lesson.