Skip to main content
Cooking Skills

How to Plate Your Sauces Like a Fancy-Schmancy Chef

These plating techniques are a great way to impress your guests, as long as you pair the right techniques with the right sauces.

I am a firm believer that your food tastes better when it’s presented well. This is especially true when you are out at a nice restaurant and your meal has been plated to perfection. That moment of awe before you first dig in? There’s nothing like it.

Sign up for the Notes from the Test Kitchen newsletter

Our favorite tips and recipes, enjoyed by 2 million+ subscribers!

The good news is that you don’t have to head to a restaurant for a photo-worthy plate. And the secret is all about the sauce. With a few simple tips, you can make every meal feel special.

But where do you start? How do you even replicate these impressive restaurant-quality tricks? It’s actually pretty easy, but the technique you choose all depends on the type of sauce you’re using. Here are some of our favorite presentation ideas and the best sauces to use to pull them off.

1. Dollop and Swoop

comma shaped dollop of sauce on white platecomma shaped dollop of sauce with scallops on top

This classic presentation is meant for thick, smooth sauces like a rouille or a puree such as our Celery Root Puree. The thicker consistency is key: It ensures that your swoosh holds its shape and doesn’t run all over the plate. 

To do it, place a spoonful of your sauce on the plate. Then, using the back of your spoon, drag the sauce to the other side of the plate to create a comma or apostrophe shape. Then, place your food on top of or next to the sauce.

2. Grab the Squeeze Bottle

zig zags and dots of sauce on white platezig zags and dots of sauce with slice of chocolate cake

For this technique, you’re going to want to give your sauce a squeeze. You’ll also want to use a thick, smooth sauce that will stay put. Good candidates are a yogurt sauce or, for dessert applications, dulce de leche.

With this one, you can channel your inner artist and get creative. After you load your sauce into a plastic squeeze bottle, have fun with it. You can create a combination of zigzags, dots, waves, or spirals! Place your food on top of the sauce, or place the food first and use the squeeze bottle to drizzle sauce on top.

3. Pull Out the Paint Brush, Picasso

sauce spread on white plate like paintsauce on plate with salmon and tomatoes

This application has a fun, artistic look to it and is perfect for when you want a little bit of sauce, but not too much. This technique is meant for thin sauces that are easily spreadable. Pestos, such as our Arugula and Almond Pesto, or a simple basil pesto work great. Balsamic glazes also work well.

This one is as easy as it sounds: Dip a clean brush (such as a pastry brush) into the sauce and tap off any excess sauce, just like you would if you were painting a wall. Brush the sauce across the plate and place your food on top.

4. Pool Your Sauce

brown sauce pooled in middle of platesliced steak on top of pooled brown sauce

When you have a sauce thats worthy of a large serving, such as a red wine pan sauce or a crème anglaise, create a nice little pool of sauce for your food to swim in.

By using a deep plate or a shallow bowl, you can create a perfect circular pool in the center of your dish. Place the rest of your food on top of the sauce in whatever manner you like. If you have a second sauce and want some extra presentation, use the squeeze bottle method to create some additional designs around the edges.

Et voilà! You can now create a masterpiece on a plate, and we bet your food will taste better, too.